How Lighting Affects Your Mood and Wellbeing: WELL Standards

How Lighting Affects Your Mood and Wellbeing: WELL Standards

For the longest time, the built environment was primarily focused on sustainability and energy efficiency. In 2013, the WELL Building Standard was introduced and shifted standards towards a more holistic interpretation of sustainability. From New York’s Empire State Building to London’s Royal Albert Hall, WELL certification is taking over some of the world’s most renowned properties (Royal Albert Hall, 2022; WELL, 2020). WELL goes beyond the scope of the buildings’ systems to ensure occupants’ health and wellness are met. It places a special emphasis on how healthy and liveable indoor spaces support people’s well-being and quality of life. The question they aimed to address was: how does someone’s space directly improve productivity and mood?

It is important for buildings to be built around the occupant’s needs and ensure that their psychological well-being is met. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), occupants spend 90% of their time indoors (US EPA, 1989), and therefore it is more crucial than ever to create spaces that positively contribute to human health. Understanding how occupants psychologically respond to various indoor issues can help in future designing processes and further enhance the WELL Standard.

The fourth concept of the WELL v2 standard is Light. It is one of the most easily controllable elements, and slight changes can significantly impact mental health. Lighting design is predominantly based on either cost, energy savings, or visual appeal. Still, it comes down to serving the purpose of helping people see and experience a space comfortably in the end. With lighting contributing to 15% of global energy consumption (U4E, 2017), its effect on people’s lives while still balancing its impact on the environment is a vital prerequisite.

Importance of Lighting in WELL Standards

One of the criticisms of late 20th-century lighting design was that designers overlit rooms with the sole intention of brightening the spaces’ to full the primary task (Denniston, 2007). All lighting should satisfy your visual needs; however, not all of them meet your needs comfortably.  Multi-level lighting was introduced as a solution to cater to different amounts of lighting for the various tasks in a space. The 4 features of multi-level lighting include: ambient, task, accent, and decorative lighting. This allowed occupants to have individual control over the types of lighting in a space, enhancing both their mood and mental being. The 21st century further saw dimming controls, motion sensor controls, and light level sensors come into effect. This was not only an energy saving strategy but also a way to satisfy occupants’ preferences.

Current lighting standards see designers shifting to focus on meeting the nonvisual needs of individuals as much as the visual needs. Non-visual factors include heart rate and body temperature fluctuations, melatonin suppressions, and circadian rhythm phase shifting (Viola et al., 2008). These factors are affected by both natural and artificial lighting, and hence the body should acquire the right amounts throughout the day.

Lighting in WELL contributes to 18 of the 110 points. Two out of the nine features in the Light category are pre-conditions and require that all WELL-certified projects should provide adequate light exposure through lighting, and artificial lights should deliver visual comfort for all occupants. Low daytime light exposure and bright light at night can lead to various adverse physical and mental outcomes, including sleeping disorders, depression, and breast cancer (Stevens, 1997).

The other seven features include lighting design and strategies to support the circadian rhythm, minimize glare and flicker, enhance outdoor views, create a visual balance between artificial and natural lighting, achieve high color rendering indices, and provide customizable lighting conditions. The consequences of these strategies on users’ psychological well-being are discussed further ahead.

Lighting and Well-being

The intensity of daylight in a space can differ depending on the time of the day, seasonal sun angle, and window and shading specifications. Areas exposed to daylight have been shown to aid patients’ recovery in hospitals, increase performance in schools and workplaces, and reduce bacteria buildup indoors. Lack of daylighting combined with seasonal variations can cause Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), leading to depression. SAD can be treated through white light therapy, leading designers to gradually get a grasp that mimicking indoor color temperatures with the natural rhythm of the sun is crucial to achieving positive health (Viola et al., 2008).

Appropriate use of natural light reduces the effect of SAD, but on the other hand, inappropriate uses may cause high intensities of light, leading to glare. Similarly, inappropriate positioning and types of electric light fixtures can cause both glare and flickering. These discomforts can cause various chronic diseases to arise, such as Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) in occupants.

The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic led to people working from home more than ever and deteriorating mental health, meaning indoor spaces needed to be safer and healthier. A WELL-certified environment achieves both quality lighting and healthy people. Lighting alone cannot transform design for well-being but is an important trait in a building. A human-centric environment feeds to maximize human potential at the end of the day.

Alpin’s headquarters in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi became the first office building in the Middle East to be WELL-certified. Points were achieved in the Light Category by enhancing natural light in the office and incorporating dimming controls. A survey carried out in the office also indicated that more than 50% of the employees were ‘highly satisfied’ with the artificial light. Overall, being WELL-certified ensures that Alpin is committed to providing a space that promotes productivity and prioritizes physical and mental well-being.

Bottom line

To conclude, the WELL v2 has fewer preconditions and more optimizations, making the standard more flexible and allowing projects to be more creative, using innovative solutions to get more points. This is a very positive outcome for the newer version, and we hope to see more and more projects in the Middle East target the WELL certification. It is currently the most comprehensive guideline available focusing on improving the health and well-being of building occupants. If you would like to know more about the ROI of WELL, you can learn more about it here.