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Guide to Well-being with Building Controls

The Fitwel Certification System

By Joe Gohn, CEM , BREEAM ASSOCIATE, CLCP, CLEP, CLMC, FITWEL AMB., Green Globes Professional (GGP), LC, LEED AP, WELL AP, Living Future AP
National Sales Director, Building Control System Division
May 2021


Demands for building occupant health and safety has been on the rise for the past 20 years – with many building rating systems attempting to prescriptively address components of well-being such as light levels, thermal comfort, and indoor air quality – even bike racks. However, in recent years, rating systems specific to the health and well-being of occupants have arrived on scene. In this series, we will highlight the different building rating systems redefining how we measure and track occupant health in the built environment – beginning with Fitwel®. 
 

Introduction to Fitwel

Fitwel was created and tested by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) along with US General Services Administration (GSA) as a building certification system for how to design and operate buildings to improve health and productivity. After 5 years and over 3,000 studies by numerous scientists, academic advisors, and real estate professionals, Fitwel was launched in 2017. This program is operated by a 3rd party non-profit agency called CfAD – the Center for Active Design – and continues to work with the CDC to improve the system as new research becomes available. 

Standard Requirements and Certification

The Fitwel Certification System features 7 health impact categories (listed below) and 12 strategies addressing specific spaces in or around the building. ​​​
  • Impacts Surrounding Community Health 
  • Reduces Morbidity and Absenteeism 
  • Supports Social Equity for Vulnerable Populations 
  • Instills Feelings of Well-Being 
  • Enhances Access to Healthy Foods
  • Promotes Occupant Safety 
  • Increases Physical Activity 
The weighted point system allows for users to calculate both the impact of the strategy as well as the strength of the evidence of this impact. Users have the chance to achieve 1-3 stars and a range of points between 90-144 by doing a simple calculation designed to promote evidence-based criteria. For each strategy, the Health Impact Value is determined by multiplying the value for strength of impact by 1/3 of the strength for evidence of impact. 
 

Lighting and Control Strategies

A key component of achieving occupant health is utilizing lighting and controls to create well-lit, visually comfortable spaces. Several Fitwel strategies address lighting and controls

Windows

First is daylighting which is defined in this context as providing natural light and views of nature. Windows are one approach for providing access to light and views but can be challenging to manage due to conduction, convection, and radiation. Heat gains and losses occur with windows and are caused by infiltration/ventilation, conduction, and solar energy. Conduction values of many building products are readily available through ASHRAE and other publications.  When choosing windows, consider structural elements that will impact their efficiency such as thermally broken frames, non-metallic spacers between panes, Low-E coatings or low conductivity gases such as argon or krypton between panes. 

Fitwel Strategy 7 for Workplaces, 7.1 allows for projects to win points by providing a calculation showing 51% or greater of regularly occupied workstations, common areas, and other regularly occupied areas receive daylight. This can be achieved through any combination of techniques include windows, photosensors, shading, and daylight controls
Lighting control professionals can take advantage of the availability of natural light to reduce the electric lighting load potentially saving up to 40% energy in daylighting zones. This can help significantly reduce the Energy Usage Index (a simple metric used to evaluate the energy performance of a facility). Many building energy codes require 1 or 2 zones for side lite areas. I would propose going above a beyond Code and incorporate 3 zones of daylight harvesting.  ​​​​​​​​​​

Shading and Shade Controls

Other approaches to lighting and controls in a Fitwel project include the addition of shading systems. Under Strategy 7 for Workplaces, 7.3 incentivizes the provision of automatic or manual operable shading in regularly occupied workplaces. Shades help occupants control glare or daylighting. Our patented motor allows for any automatically controlled shade to also be a manual shade with no impact to the motor if an occupant needs to adjust the shade to their preference. In addition to enhancing the occupant experience, shades have the potential to reduce or increase solar heat gain, depending on the temperature goals of the facility. Having automatic shading tied into the lighting and building management system can create great opportunities for energy savings. 
 

Occupant Comfort and Energy Efficiency

Many other Fitwel strategies can be addressed with lighting and controls (stairwells, building entrances, etc.) but the bottom line is the ability to manage, measure, and control lighting and the interconnection with other systems such as HVAC. Networked lighting controls not only save energy and money on labor and install, they also give the energy and facility manager the opportunity to identify energy conservation opportunities, change settings remotely, and look at the entire health of the facility. Outdoor lighting is also part of the certification system to ensure the safe access and movement of building occupants. Utilizing controls for time and dimming setback functions are also required by most energy codes but can be built upon to increase the overall efficiency of the building and the occupant experience.  

Addressing Pandemics and Occupants Expectations

So, what does Fitwel consider as factors for improving health and productivity in the built environment?  Over 50 strategies that address the best science linking health and design are incorporated within Fitwel. They have also launched a Viral Response module as a direct response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. This new module addresses 3 main areas: Enhanced indoor Environments, Encouraging Behavior change, and Building Occupant Trust. More information on the Module can be found on the Fitwel website (https://fitwel.org/).