LEED v4: Upgraded, Redefined & Ready for Adoption

LEED v4: Upgraded, Redefined & Ready for Adoption

By Martin Smith

The last day to officially register a project under the LEED v2009 rating system is on October 31st, 2016. That means projects failing to register before Halloween will have to sign up for LEED v4 by default. (If your project is already registered under LEED v2009, do not fear—you have until June 2021 to submit for certification under this rating system). So, what can we expect from LEED v4 that has some critics clearly spooked? Is it really all that scary? Keep reading below to find out more about the soon-to-be normal for USGBC’s LEED rating system.

According to the USGBC website, LEED v4 has been designed to be more flexible and improve overall user experience. The new rating system also includes an entire new credit category that was split off from “Sustainable Sites”—the category “Location and Transportation” now makes up 16% of the new rating system. Compared to v2009, LEED v4 places increased attention to four major aspects: materials, the smart grid, water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality performance. Below, we will go over some of the major additions to these concentrated areas in LEED v4.


Almost all credits in the LEED v4 Materials & Resources (MR) category have been completely reworked from LEED v2009. The new BD+C rating system incorporates a prerequisite for “Construction and Demolition Waste Management Planning,” meaning all projects must successfully complete this if they are attempting any level of LEED v4 certification. LEED v2009’s “Building Reuse” credit has been reconfigured into “Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction” for LEED v4. USGBC recognizes the huge environmental benefits stemming from building reuse, as this credit holds the highest achievable points (2-5) out of any MR credit. The first three options for this credit allow teams to achieve points for reusing a building in an historic district (5 points), reusing an abandoned or blighted building (5 points), or reusing part of a building by surface area (1-4 points). The fourth option is completely new to LEED: a whole-building life-cycle assessment (3 points).

LEED v4 has three additional MR credits never seen before: “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials” (1-2 points), “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations” (1-2 points), and “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients” (1-2 points). All of these “BPDO” credits hold the intent to “encourage the use of products and materials for which life-cycle information is available and that have environmentally, economically, and socially preferable life-cycle impacts.”

The first BPDO credit has taken all of LEED v2009’s MR credits relating to material content (i.e. recycled content, certified wood, rapidly renewable materials) and placed them into a new “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials” credit. The second BPDO credit introduces a new concept relating to material ingredient disclosure: “Environmental Product Declarations” (EPDs). A product’s life-cycle assessment (LCA) information gets summarized in an EPD—it shows the environmental impacts of the product in shorter form. While the former credit focuses on material disclosure, the third and final BPDO credit, “Material Ingredients,” rewards project teams for selecting optimized products that use safe ingredients with improved life-cycle impacts. Cradle to Cradle certified products are just one path for how project teams may acquire points for this credit.

Smart Grid

LEED v4 has made “Building-Level Energy Metering” a prerequisite within the Energy and Atmosphere category for BD+C, meaning all project teams must achieve this if they expect to receive any level of certification. Project teams must install permanent meters or submeters that can be aggregated to provide building-level data representing total building energy consumption. After the project accepts LEED certification, the building must commit to sharing resulting energy consumption data and electrical demand data with USGBC for five years. Taking it one step further, teams can also achieve one point for pursuing the “Advanced Energy Metering” credit in LEED v4. This requires metering of every whole-building energy source used and any individual energy end uses that represent 10% or more of total annual consumption, and recording both consumption and demand at intervals of 1 hour.

Completely new to LEED, the “Demand Response” credit (1-2 points) offers project teams the ability to achieve 2 points for participating in a demand response program, and 1 point for simply “being ready” for a program in the future. In both cases, the building must have meters installed with communication and building automation abilities, a shedding plan for 10% of estimated peak electricity demand must be developed, demand response must be included in commissioning scope, and finally, you must contact a local utility to discuss future Demand Response programs (if one isn’t available).

Water Efficiency

Whereas in LEED v2009 the only prerequisite in the Water Efficiency category was “Water Use Reduction,” in LEED v4, there are now three prerequisites: “Outdoor Water Use Reduction,” Indoor Water Use Reduction,” and “Building-Level Water Metering.” This means that project teams must show the following: that no irrigation is required, or if it is, the project’s landscape water requirement has been reduced by at least 30%; that aggregate indoor water use was reduced by 20%; and permanent meters that measure potable water use for building and grounds are compiling data into monthly and annual summaries that can be shared with the USGBC for five years. If all of these requirements are not met, then project teams cannot pursue any level of certification.

Two credits that are new to the Water Efficiency category in LEED v4 BD+C are “Cooling Tower Water Use” (1-2 points) and “Water Metering” (1 point). The former requires project teams to conduct a one-time potable water analysis for cooling towers and evaporative condensers (the intent here is to conserve water used for cooling tower makeup while controlling microbes, corrosion, and scale). The water metering credit requires project teams to install permanent water meters for two or more of the following water subsystems: irrigation, indoor plumbing fixtures and fittings, domestic hot water, boiler, reclaimed water, or other process water.

Indoor Environmental Quality

LEED v4 has combined three previous credits from v2009 (“Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring,” “Increased Ventilation,” and “Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control”) into one new Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) credit: “Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies” (1-2 points).

The upgraded “Interior Lighting” credit in LEED v4 offers two options for project teams (1 point each), which may be combined for a total of 2 points. The first option requires lighting controls for 90% of individual spaces and 100% for multi-occupant spaces. The second option requires at least four of the following additional lighting quality strategies: low luminance, high CRI, long rated life, minimal direct overhead-only lighting, high average surface reflectance, low wall to work surface illuminance ratio, or low ceiling to work surface illuminance ratio.

The “Daylight and Views” credit from LEED v2009 has been separated out into two distinct credits in v4: “Daylight” and “Quality Views.” The LEED v4 daylight credit has three different options for achieving points. The first two require simulations—project teams may achieve 2-3 points for completing a spatial daylight autonomy simulation, or 1-2 points for completing an illuminance calculator simulation. The third option allows project teams to physically measure daylighting at the site (2-3 points). The “Quality Views” credit in LEED v4 stresses the importance of natural scenery and long distance sights. If project teams pursue this credit, 75% of all regularly occupied floor area must have direct line of site to the outdoors with at least two of the following types of views: multiple lines of sight to vision glazing in different directions, views that include flora, fauna, sky, or movement, unobstructed views located within the distance of three times the head height of the vision glazing, or views with a factor of 3 or greater.

A completely new credit for the Indoor Environmental Quality category in LEED v4 is “Acoustic Performance” (1 point). This credit involves project teams meeting specific requirements for HVAC background noise, sound isolation, reverberation time, sound reinforcement and masking systems. The intent behind this is to provide workspaces and classrooms that promote occupant’s well-being, productivity, and communications through effective acoustic design.

Sound scary?

Well, it shouldn’t. Yes, there are added prerequisites here and there—but most of these additional requirements will help building owners in the long-run. Building-level energy metering (now a prerequisite) will help building operations and facility management staff determine where inefficiencies are within the building when energy consumption levels appear higher than normal. The same can be said for the added “Building-Level Water Metering” prerequisite. The new LEED v4 Materials and Resources category does appear daunting at first, and will potentially be more complicated to document. However, as a flood of new requests for EPDs and optimized material ingredients come in from the building design and construction industry, manufacturers will catch on and will have to quickly adapt or else they will lose out to competitors who have successfully reported their product’s ingredients via certifications (Cradle to Cradle) or disclosed life-cycle information through EPDs. (This seems to be USGBC’s overarching goal for creating these new credits). When this shift in the market does happen, it will make reporting the Building Product Disclosure and Optimization credits much easier. For now, if you are worried that this is too complex for your project, you can always attempt these last, as they are not mandatory.

Over 900 U.S. projects have already been registered as LEED v4. As Verdical Group is based in Los Angeles, we are proud to say that the largest percentage of these registered LEED v4 projects are in California. Verdical Group’s LEED consultants have deep expertise with the LEED version 4 (v4) rating system, and our Director of Sustainability, Holly Hill, helped write the Reference Guide when the new rating system was being developed. Contact us here to discuss your LEED project today — whether in Los Angeles, SoCal, or anywhere else in the world, we’d be happy to help!