An Electrical Contractor’s Guide to Light in WELL-Certified Buildings

Recently awarded WELL Platinum, the highest level of WELL certification, Lutron’s Global Experience Center in New York is designed with both visitors and everyday employees in mind.  


As sustainability becomes increasingly important in the design and construction industry, more business owners are leaning on performance-based certifications for guidance. While you are likely familiar with LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), a certification focused on energy-efficient, green buildings, the complementary WELL Building Standard is a roadmap for creating and certifying spaces that advance human health and well-being. This WELL standard is getting increased attention in the global building market. 

The lighting and shading systems chosen for building projects are key to positively affecting the human experience in a space and gaining substantial points toward a WELL certification. While human-centric lighting metrics and daylight modeling may seem to fall outside the wheelhouse of electrical contractor’s expertise, new luminaires, lighting control systems, and shading systems are making it easier than ever for contractors to help projects achieve WELL certification. 

Below, we highlight five tips you need to know to become a WELL-savvy resource for your current clients and open up a new customer base of clients looking for contractors with WELL experience. Note: this article references the newest version of the WELL Standard—WELL v2, Q4 2023. 


Tip #1: Check with the Specifier before Substituting any Products 

Project teams must take extra care with each product selected on a job that targets WELL certification. A project can earn several points within the Light concept for using a WELL-friendly lighting fixture that creates a comfortable visual environment. These fixtures must provide a certain level of light on a target surface to accommodate the visual tasks performed in the space (e.g., offices need 30 foot-candles at the task surface). 

Points can be earned for selecting fixtures with a Unified Glare Rating (UGR) of 16 or lower, offering certain color rendering capabilities and ensuring flicker management. Choosing the right control system also can

help luminaries meet the specs. There also are considerations for circadian lighting design that measure occupants’ exposure to equivalent melanopic lux (EML) — an illuminance used for non-visual purposes — and achieving visual balance.

Although substitutions are common on a typical project, the criteria for WELL projects can be so interconnected that product substitutions can put certification at risk. If substitutions must be made, they should be thoroughly vetted by the specification team. What may appear to be a simple product change can have far-reaching effects on the overall design and potentially impact WELL points. In short, check with the design team before substituting lighting fixtures or lighting controls. 


Tip #2: Be Prepared to Bid for Low-Voltage Automated Shading Systems 

Automated shades at Lutron’s Global Experience Center help keep the space comfortable for occupants and contribute toward WELL Platinum certification.

Access to natural light is a key tenet of the WELL Building Standard, but the same windows that allow a space to embrace daylight and highlight views may also cause uncomfortable glare or heat gain. Daylight needs to be managed, and WELL recognizes the need for either manual or automated shading to protect building occupants from potential overexposure. 

L05 Daylight Design Strategies calls for either manual shading, earning 1 point, or automated shading, earning 2 points, on the windows in all regularly occupied areas.  

To earn maximum points with a sustainable, cost-effective solution, most projects will opt for an automated, low-voltage shading system. A low-voltage system needs less wiring, less conduit, and fewer electrical circuits in the electrical panels than a typical shading system. 

Though specifying lighting and shading control from the shade manufacturer may be easier, when the project calls for integrating shading and lighting control systems from different manufacturers, be sure to include integration devices (e.g., contact closures to integrate shades) and startup services in the bid. 


Tip #3: Create Smaller Lighting Zones to Add Flexibility and Improve Control Options  

One of the ways the WELL Standard heightens occupant comfort is by awarding points for giving people greater control over the lighting in their immediate area. Organizing the lighting system into smaller zones best supports this goal. The WELL rating system rewards smaller, more localized zones by awarding 2 points for a single zone per every 5 occupants, decreasing to 1 point if 10 occupants share a single zone. 

The smaller-zone requirement can be achieved more easily using a networked lighting control system, which can help you quickly create and program smaller zones. If the floorplan changes in the design process or after the clients have occupied the space, it’s a quick and easy callback to regroup fixtures and edit zones without rewiring or compromising the WELL certification. 


Tip #4: Add Manual Control Wherever Needed with Wireless Controls 

Another WELL concept focuses on the physical touchpoints for the lighting and shading systems. To gain the most points, occupants should be able to control these lighting zones from a manual control located in the lighting zone or through a digital interface available on a computer or phone. Wireless keypads make it easy to give this granular control to your clients, reducing installation time by up to 70 percent vs. a wired option. 


Tip #5: Choose In-Fixture Controls to Deliver Tunable White Lighting with Ease 

Choosing a wireless system means that occupants feel more in control of their space.

The WELL Lighting concept is designed to ensure the quality of light in the space. The WELL Standard defines quality light as light that “[has] the ability to change color, correlated color temperature (how warm or cool the light source appears), or distribution of light through groups of lights or preset scenes.” Tunable white lighting is often chosen to meet this WELL feature and other circadian lighting requirements, as it can produce a wide array of color temperatures in a single fixture. 

Installing tunable white systems on the traditional 0-10V infrastructure required electrical contractors to pull up to eight wires from the luminaire back to the electrical panels. Questionable compatibility and parameters around load type made these systems difficult to deliver with a high degree of confidence, and these installations often presented crowding issues in electrical closets. New technology is making it easier and less labor-intensive to install tunable white solutions. 

Wireless in-fixture controls, such as the Lutron Athena wireless node make it possible for electrical contractors to deliver reliable, tunable white lighting systems that only require power wiring to complete the installation. Gone are the days of pulling multiple sets of control wiring back to the electrical panels. Wireless solutions can also eliminate compatibility issues and overcrowded electrical closets. The fixtures arrive at the project site with the lighting control device already in place and ready to be powered up. 

With these tips in mind, you’ll be set to deliver functional, comfortable spaces designed to achieve WELL certification and improved well-being for the occupants. 

Michael Jouaneh, LEEP AP, WELL Faculty, is manager, Sustainability and Energy Standards, at Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. 


All photos courtesy of Lutron Electronics