LEED v4: Things You and Your Team Should Know about LEED v4 Changes


United States Green Building Council

United States Green Building Council (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The new version of LEED — LEED v4 — has been out for a little while now. If you’re moving from LEED 2009 to LEED v4, you might be wondering what’s new and different about this version of LEED and what do you and your project team need to be aware of. We’re going to identify the underlying principles for v4’s new prerequisites and credits.

Here are some highlights of things you will learn about LEED v4:

  • Discover how LEED v4 will drive product transparency
  • Significantly raise the bar for green building standards
  • Groundbreaking step in the sustainable green building movement
  • USGBC realized that LEED was not challenging enough
  • Focus on building performance
  • Healthy, productive spaces. LEEDs drive forward is ambitious. Some think that they have gone too far too fast

When it came time to update LEED 2009 requirements, the USGBC engaged the building development community in the entire credential building process. During the course of program development, there were six public comment periods and the USGBC received an unprecedented 23,000 comments. The organization also established technical advisory groups as well as setting up 200 beta programs that gave them hands-on feedback.

With LEED v4 USGBC has a better understanding with the way people engage with their physical environment, and today’s technology “ups the bar” to focus on market transformation but encourages project teams to go further. Getting it right was important. The USGBC even delayed LEED 2012 so that they could make LEED v4 more aggressive, but still kept it in line with the direction the green building industry was going.

During the program development stages, dialogue was rich and lively. V4’s adoption will be broad. Organizations that want to differentiate themselves are going to gravitate to LEED v4. However, not everyone agrees. Some people will hold off on LEED v4 for as long as possible.

LEED v4 Goals:

  • Reverse contribution to global climate change
  • Enhance individual human health and well-being
  • Protect and restore water resources
  • Protect, enhance and restore biodiversity and ecosystems services
  • Promote sustainable and regenerative material resources cycles
  • Build a greener economy
  • Enhance social equity, environmental justice and community quality of life

ASHRAE 90.1-2010 Is Crucial

LEED v4 significantly raises the bar for energy efficiency levels. Close to 20% of the rating systems points rely on adherence to ASHRAE 90.1-2010. Project teams need to show that their project is 5% more efficient than ASHRAE 90.1-2010 (which is already 20% more difficult than ASHRAE 90.1-2007.) Your team will need to work synergistically and with innovation and integration. Innovations and integration are key to you success.

HVAC systems are also in for a major makeover in LEED v4, things like reducing air side energy recovery will likely be specified more frequently. High performance solutions are necessary, such as reduced fan power, energy recovery, limitations in reheat, increased chiller performance, chilled beams, ground loop heat pumps, radiant systems, variable refrigerant systems, etc. Increased performance and HVAC commissioning are now considered baseline.

Radiant systems, displacement ventilation, variable refrigerant systems are all options. Some industries, like health care facilities, are likely to find it more challenging to meet new energy efficiency requirements. Designers will find themselves pushing to meet those healthcare building code restrictions. More code flexibility will be required to get to higher levels of efficiencies. Many changes bring into questions the US’s standard protocols for infection prevention outcomes.

How to beat ASHRAE 90.1-2010 Energy Efficient Standards is one of the biggest concerns of building owners. It will be challenging – but not impossible. However, the way that building teams approach projects needs to change. Previously the engineer could do a lot of work and get the project there. Now it really takes the whole team, everyone working together from the beginning of the project. Projects that are going to be successful under the new standards are going to have to look at things more holistically.

O&M buildings need to achieve an Energy Star score of at least 75 (an increase from 69). Projects can take advantage of a new pilot credit — Energy Jump Start. Buildings can earn basic LEED certification if they can show a 20% energy efficiency improvement over an established baseline during the course of one year.

LEED v4 also brings changes to Water Efficiency. In this new LEED program making buildings accountable for water uses is crucial – and we’re not talking about just bathroom fixtures. Teams need to look at whole level building metering and water consumption across the entire building. LEED calls for project teams to look at a building’s comprehensive water use, like process water, landscaping, appliance water, cooling tower water. Metering will be required to track water efficiency. One of the biggest misses is estimating the amount of water used in the building. LEED v4 seeks to eliminate low flush toilets — to pass the MAP test, toilets must be able to flush once.

There is also a shift in philosophical approach – the term “storm water” has been replaced with “rain water” to put a more positive spin on water as a resource. Cooling tower water has been brought into the water consumption equation. Saving water that gets lost in blow down is a major part.

New metering requirements will make sure that the building actually performs as planned. Building level water metering is a prerequisite.

Buildings need to seek recertification after 5 years to make sure that buildings are maintaining or improving energy efficiency. With LEED v4 there is a greater focus on metering and performance verification. Buildings will be held accountable on energy being used.

Lifecycle Assessments

Lifecycle impact approach materials and resource section includes building product disclosure and optimization credits: one for environment product declaration, another for sourcing of raw materials and another for materials reporting. Manufacturers now have to disclose their product makeup – this will make the whole industry more transparent.

Whole building LCAs (Life Cycle Assessments) will play an important role in v4 projects. V4 includes a whole building LCA credit which measures a buildings environmental impact. This encourages building teams to engage structural engineers early in the design process. A lot of these markets are new and still under development so this is an ongoing process. Some of the materials and resources language has been intentionally kept open in order to support this new model.

Product transparency is a highly contentious area. The AEC community is responding positively to the new product disclosure requirement. In the past designers were forced to hope for the best unless they were able to pay for costly tests. This makes it better for architects. When specifying a product, this type of manufacturer disclosure is valuable. With the push for manufacturers to disclose, architects can more readily find out the environmental impacts of a particular product. Sustainable product selection should be much easier.

Most companies are already tracking enough information to track their supply chain data and product transparencies. Some are creating Product Category rules to make it easier for them to categorize products.

The USGBC has been addressing manufacturing concerns about the lack of guidelines. Advocates of product transparency demonstrate that this practice is well established in Europe. However, transparency is a new concept in the United States. There are very few best practices.

One tool people can use is Green Wizard which is an online database where manufacturers can share their information. As more companies avail their information here, it will be easier for building designers to know which products to select.

Life cycle assessment and supply chain transparency is just becoming part of the new normal in every sector. Those that adapt will gain a competitive edge. Those that don’t disclose will be left behind.

V4 is promoting a holistic design approach. As opposed to staying in their silos, v4 encourages soliciting input from a variety of sources/team members. The new integrative process credit helps ensure that integration doesn’t stop after the design phase but continues all the way through occupancy.

Green Power and Carbon Offsets

Buildings/facilities can get the credit by entering into a 5 year green power contract as opposed to two years with a provider that came online after January 1, 2005, for 50% of the building’s’ total energy usage. Renewable energy certifications (RECs) must be green e-energy certified or the equivalent. Although RECs aren’t a new thing, Carbon Offsets are.

A free online tool, Just Green, prompts users to enter data about their building and it will provide info on carbon offsets, RECs and anticipated costs.

The documentation process has been simplified. There are step-by-step documentation forms and a more user friendly format. Offline calculators can now be easily shared between team members.

Sustainable building market research have all gone into the development of LEED v4. This version is an important step forward for building design and construction. Adopting the new system will not be without its hassles, but it’s all encouraging.

Want to learn more? Check out the GBES Course 20 Things You Must Know About LEEDv4.

Click on this LEED CE link and click on “Browse Individual Courses” to find the 20 Things You Must Know About LEED v4 course.

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