WELL Tip: Pre-testing best practices

WELL Tip: Pre-testing best practices

Friday, March 15, 2019
/ By:
Melissa Wrolstad & Mona Holtkötter


To achieve WELL Certification, projects must pass on-site performance testing, called performance verification (PV). As a part of PV, the WELL Performance Testing Agent will come to the project to conduct a number of tests related to air quality, water quality, lighting quality, thermal comfort and acoustics within the project boundary.

What is pre-testing?

Pre-testing is the practice of conducting testing within the project space in advance of PV to get an early indication of whether WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) requirements are met. These tests are optional and scheduled, as well as paid for by the project team. Many teams do not conduct pre-testing and have successful performance verification testing.

Benefits of pre-testing:

  1. Pre-testing can give project teams an early indication of whether a project meets WELL requirements as well as areas that still may require intervention or remediation to meet WELL requirements.

  2. Projects have the opportunity to test different solutions and their efficacy.

  3. It can be easier to make changes to the project earlier in the timeline, before completing the first round of performance verification testing, in which it may be realized that certain WELL requirements aren’t being met by the current design or existing condition.

  4. Pre-testing can be particularly useful in understanding the baseline conditions of existing spaces.  

  5. Projects might prefer to use pre-testing to reduce the chances of curative action. You can find more information about the curative action process in this WELL Tip Article - Ins and Outs of Curative Action.

Pre-testing best practices:

Determine which WELL features in the project’s scorecard will require testing. Project teams may choose to prioritize pre-testing for preconditions over pre-testing for optimizations if they have a limited testing budget.

  • Air - Check local outdoor air quality data. If this data indicates that outdoor air quality is very good and internal air quality has been considered carefully (low VOC internal fit-out materials have been used, filters have been replaced, no cooking is prevalent in the building and the building has been cleaned with non-toxic cleaning material)  - the team many not need to test for these specific contaminants and these tests may be considered for removal from the pre-testing list. An air pre-test may only include 1-2 potential contaminants that the project team is not certain will be in compliance. Here are examples of instances where a project team may want to conduct pre-testing for Air:

    • The project is located in an area with high levels of outdoor air pollutants.

    • The project team has implemented a number of air purification strategies and wants to see if they are effective together in meeting WELL requirements, or if additional / more robust strategies are required.

    • The project is an interior fit-out project that recently moved into a newly renovated existing building where it is unclear if base-building materials are still significantly off-gassing.

    • The project has newly installed materials that have the potential to off-gas VOCs.

    • An existing project with an existing ventilation system where the team is determining if ductwork cleaning and filter replacement may be required to meet WELL requirements.

    • A project that is located in an area where levels of outdoor air pollutants exceed the WELL thresholds (especially if it is a naturally ventilated project).

    • A significant number of printers are present within the occupied floor area and the project team believes there is potential they may influence the ozone measurements. 

    • The project is a v1 project and is located in a high radon risk area.

  • Water - Check local water quality data and compare levels of municipal water quality to WELL requirements. Pre-testing may be useful in the following instances:

    • If the municipal water quality testing levels significantly differ from the WELL thresholds.

    • If there are contaminants that are not tested by the municipality.

    • If there are old pipes delivering the water that could influence the water quality on site.

    • If there are industrial or agricultural sites close to the project that could influence the water quality delivered to the project.

  • Light - Consider existing lighting conditions in the space in the following situations:

    • The project has existing lighting and cannot get information on the lighting fixtures (CRI, lux levels, information to calculate EML).

    • The project is not certain if the light features can be achieved without task lighting and would like to test different lighting options.

  • Sound - Consider existing acoustical conditions in the space. If an acoustical consultant has verified that certain areas meet WELL requirements as-is due to existing design characteristics, it may be possible to eliminate the need for acoustical pre-testing from those spaces. Other types of spaces where project teams have less or no acoustical control in the design and construction phases, such as a conference room in an existing building, may benefit from pre-testing.

  • Thermal Comfort - Consider existing thermal comfort conditions in the space. If there is continuous monitoring in the space that is collecting data at regular intervals, pre-testing is likely not needed if data shows compliance with WELL feature requirements. Below are examples of when pre-testing for thermal comfort conditions may be useful:

    • The project is using existing systems and it is unclear what the relative humidity levels are, especially in areas next to spaces with high humidity (shower rooms, pool areas, etc.).

    • The project is an existing space that has not undergone envelope commissioning or blower air door testing and the team is unclear if there are leaks in the envelope that could affect thermal comfort conditions such as temperature and humidity levels.

    • The project is located in a humid climate and is unclear how this is impacting humidity levels within the project.

    • The project has large glazed areas and/or walls with no or minimal insulation levels which could affect radiant temperature levels.

Determine the optimal time for each pre-test. Make sure that results of each test can be received in time to reasonably implement a solution.

  • For example, if water pre-tests come back with very high chlorine levels, ideally those results are received at a point in the timeline where it is still possible to implement a solution such as adding a central filtration system or point-of-use filtration.

Select a testing agent that can test according to the WELL Performance Verification Guidebook. If the project is pursuing WELL v2™ pilot Certification, note that the same individual WELL performance testing agent cannot be used for PV testing if they provide pre-testing services that include consulting, as this is deemed a conflict of interest. Consulting in this case is considered guidance on how to remediate any gaps in WELL compliance that were indicated in testing results. If the individual is strictly providing pre-testing data results, they can be selected as the WELL Performance Testing Agent for the project.

Conduct the pre-testing. When pre-testing, please note that meticulously following the guidance in the WELL Performance Verification Guidebook will give results most closely to the results that will be received during WELL PV, specifically:

  • It is important to follow the equipment specifications. Different types of equipment will have different accuracy tolerances and may produce results that differ from the future PV testing results.

  • Sampling location requirements are detailed in the WELL Performance Verification Guidebook and should be followed to ensure that testing occurs in similar locations and conditions as WELL PV. However, the project team may choose to adjust the number of testing points required by the PVGB to reduce pre-testing costs.

  • Certain features require specific methods for analyzing data which should be followed precisely during pre-testing to ensure that pre-testing results are calculated using the same methods during WELL PV conducted by the WELL Performance Testing Agent.

Project teams should be aware that pre-testing results can never be used to demonstrate compliance for performance verification.

Interpret the results. If there are any pre-tests that indicate a gap between project performance and WELL requirements, implement a plan to close the gap. Consider redoing tests that did not pass in the first round of pre-testing to ensure that implemented solutions result in anticipated outcomes.

During this process, you can also reach out to your project’s coaching contact with project specific questions.

Melissa Wrolstad’s role at the International WELL Building Institute leverages her extensive experience in the sustainability industry. Melissa works to support IWBI’s mission by leveraging her breadth of building certifications technical expertise to provide technical support to project teams through WELL coaching.