Forget sustainability. What’s your building’s Covid rating?

Rating for coronavirus safety is launched

International WELL Building Institute is launching a new rating that looks at how owners are curbing infection risk (iStock)
International WELL Building Institute is launching a new rating that looks at how owners are curbing infection risk (iStock)

Buildings can soon get a grade for their coronavirus safety.

The International WELL Building Institute is launching a “Health Safety Rating” to reflect how well offices, restaurants, hotels, retail shops and other spaces reduce occupants’ risk of infection.

To attain the certification, owners must document sanitation practices — from cleaning to touchless navigation systems — as well as waste disposal, water quality and overall emergency preparedness in their buildings, said Rachel Gutter, the institute’s president.

IWBI will also look at whether tenants of specific spaces have an office culture and policies that encourage sick workers to stay home.

“We know you can’t design your way out of Covid,” Gutter said.

IWBI isn’t the only organization that has seen an opportunity in the coronavirus crisis to grow their ratings systems as offices and retailers start to reopen. Last month, the U.S. Green Building Council announced that it is adding health and social distancing standards to the latest version of its LEED certification.

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Unlike LEED — which provides a range of different certification levels for property sustainability based on a point system — IWBI’s new rating will consist of one level that signifies to occupants that certain health standards have been met.

Gutter said pricing is still being worked out, but buildings will be reviewed annually at a rate starting at $850. Owners will also have the option of including the rating as part of their Well Certification, which evaluates buildings based on how spaces address the overall health and wellbeing of occupants.

There’s been debate in the past decade over the importance of building certifications, especially as LEED became ubiquitous and the bragging rights it conveyed for owners diminished. But as uncertainty abounds about the office market, owners and tenants could see value in a standardization of health protocols.

Along with issues of occupancy and maintaining social distancing, public health officials have warned about the risks of leaving plumbing systems unused for an extended period of time. The New York Times reported that stagnant water in buildings’ pipes could lead to the build up of bacteria, including that which causes Legionnaires’ disease, a respiratory condition.

On Thursday, real estate groups and buildings’ unions announced indistrywide guidelines for reopening offices, which included instructions to test all mechanical, electric and plumbing systems. Phase one of reopening for New York City’s nonessential businesses begins today. In phase two, which cannot start before June 22, offices cannot exceed 50 percent of normally permitted occupancy.

Write to Kathryn Brenzel at