LEED v4 is in effect now, and becomes mandatory in June 2015. Are you ready?

The newest version of LEED, LEED v4, went into effect in December 2013. Until June of 2015, you can choose to submit projects under LEED 2009 or LEED v4. LEED v4 offers significant changes in point allocations, and a few new points. Some projects may earn more points and a higher rating under the new system.

We’ve looked at how the LEED v4 points stack up against LEED 2009, changes with the new rating system, and what sort of projects might make sense to submit under LEED v4. We also compared energy efficiency requirements under the two versions of LEED to Seattle and Washington State Energy Code requirements.

Point changes from LEED 2009 to LEED v4

The total number of points available under LEED v4 is 110 – the same as LEED 2009. The thresholds for certification at each level (Platinum, Gold, Silver, Certified) are also unchanged.

Available points and categories have changed.

The USGBC continues to encourage us to push the envelope for sustainable design. Under LEED v4, we’re seeing fewer points for things that have become more common sustainable design practice, such as reducing parking and on-site renewable energy. We are seeing new or additional points and requirements for more cutting-edge practices such as early project integration, choosing a sustainable location and site, system metering, and using sustainable materials and resources.

As in LEED 2009, LEED v4 is broken into a number of rating systems, and each rating system has sub-categories with points allocated slightly differently. Under the Building Design and Construction (BD+C) rating system, for example, there are now eight sub-categories (New Construction, Core & Shell, Schools, Retail, Hospitality, Data Centers, Warehouse & Distribution Centers, and Healthcare), each with slightly different point allocations tailored to the building type. The points described below are primarily for the BD+C system, except as otherwise noted.

Specific point changes include:
  • A new credit category for Integrative Design (1 point possible)
  • A new credit category for Location and Transportation (16 points possible). This new category is similar to the LEED 2009 Sustainable Sites Category, with a few points added, changed or eliminated. This category also includes specific points for the Schools, Core & Shell, and Healthcare certification categories.
  • The Water Efficiency credit category includes new prerequisites for Outdoor Water Use Reduction and Building-Level Water Metering, and new credits for Cooling Tower Water (2 points), and Building Water Metering. Process water now counts towards water use reduction.
  • The Energy and Atmosphere credit category has a new pre-requisite for Building Level Energy Metering. New credits have been added for Advanced Energy Metering and Demand Response. Renewable Energy and Enhanced Refrigerant Management points have been reduced. The Green Power credit category now has a 5-year term, and allows carbon offsets. Overall energy efficiency requirements have increased. We energy modeled several buildings, comparing results to requirements from LEED 2009 and LEED v4, and found a building under LEED v4 is likely to receive 1-4 fewer points for energy efficiency than it would under LEED 2009.
  • The Materials and Resources credit category has had a full overhaul. There is still a Storage and Collection of Recyclables prerequisite, and 2 points available for Construction and Demolition Waste Management, but everything else has changed. There is a new prerequisite for Construction and Demolition Waste Management. Alternative daily cover no longer counts towards diversion of waste. A new credit called Building Life Cycle Impact Reduction replaces the 2009 Building Reuse credit, and adds new compliance paths for historic or abandoned buildings, and whole building LCCA. The Recycled Content and Regional Materials, Rapidly Renewable Materials, Recycled Content, and Certified Wood credit categories have been replaced by the new credit categories Building Product Disclosure & Optimization—Environmental Product Declarations and Building Product Disclosure and Optimization—Sourcing of Raw Materials. A new category has been added – Building Product Disclosure and Optimization—Material Ingredients. These new categories have new requirements for certification of materials, and limit the structure and envelope to 30% of qualifying materials.
  • The Indoor Environmental Quality credit has had minor changes to prerequisites, and credit sub-categories have been combined. Two credit sub-categories, Outdoor Air Delivery Monitoring, Increased Ventilation, and Indoor Chemical and Pollutant Source Control have been combined into a new credit called Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies, and available points have been reduced from 3 to 2.
  • Several sub-categories relating to individual materials have been combined into the Low Emitting Materials sub-category, and the points available have been reduced from 4 to 3. An additional point is available for air testing prior to occupancy. Thermal Comfort Design and Thermal Comfort Controllability of Systems have been combined into Thermal Comfort, with points reduced from 2 to 1. Thermal Comfort, Verification is no longer a credit.
  • Lighting, Daylighting, and Views sub-categories have shortened names, new thresholds, and the daylighting credit is now 1-3 points, based on modeling. Acoustic Performance now applies to building types other than schools, and provides one point each for interior and exterior noise mitigation.
  • Regional Priority Credits have not yet been released for LEED v4. We expect only minor changes from the LEED 2009 credits.
Which version of LEED Should I Use?

In our experience, LEED v4 takes a step forward in its requirements for sustainable design, and in most cases will be a tougher standard than LEED 2009. With the new and revised credits and categories, however, there are some cases in which a project might score higher under the new rating system. We have been filling out scorecards under both rating systems since LEED v4 went into effect, and have developed some general guidelines about which types of projects score favorably under each system. Of course you should look at both rating systems before making any final decisions.

  • Projects scoring well under LEED 2009 include: New suburban construction, average-sized facilities, facilities with above-average water or electrical process loads, and fast-track projects with low design fees.
  • You may pick up additional points using LEED v4 with these types of projects: urban, historic, or reuse sites; international projects; very large or very small projects; facilities with efficient and metered process loads; and projects with longer design time, expert consultants, and a decisive owner.
Here are a couple of test cases from our office:

Fran’s Chocolates Factory: Adaptive reuse of a historic building, in the urban Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.

Rating System Points LEED Rating
LEED 2009 CI 78 Near Platinum
LEED v4 CI 64 Gold
LEED 2009 NC 68 Gold
LEED v4 NC 61 Low Gold, maybe Silver
Green Globes NC 64% 2 Globes (equivalent to LEED Silver)

Washington State Ferries Colman Dock Ferry Terminal: New construction on an urban site in downtown Seattle.

Rating System Points LEED Rating
LEED 2009 NC 56 Silver
LEED v4 NC 58 Silver

Preparing for LEED v4
Building Owners

With LEED v4’s focus on early integrated design, building owners should be prepared to make early decisions on energy conservation measures. Building owners should also determine local utility energy and emissions policies relevant to available points, such as green power/ renewable energy credits, carbon offsets, and utility demand response.

A/E Designers

The materials and resources credit changes mean we’ll need to look at our specifications and construction submittal policies, and revise them to include certifications for qualifying materials. We’ll need to determine and clarify whether it’s the contractor’s responsibility to provide product certification documentation.

The integrated design requirements will change (and we think improve) the project design process, and we’ll need to support owners in making early decisions about LEED certification and how we’ll pursue these goals. We’ll also need to streamline workflow from building information modeling to energy modeling to do early energy and massing studies for the integrated design credit.


Contractors will need to improve their familiarity with material source streams, and include product reporting with submittals to meet the new materials and resources requirements.


Manufacturers have already started certifying products, and making product declarations accessible to consumers; we’re seeing this information show up on manufacturers’ websites. They will need to become familiar with and incorporate ISO standards for product and corporate reporting, and pursue third party certifications for their products to be sure they continue to be included in LEED buildings.

For more information

The USGBC has created a new portal for managing LEED v4 projects, here: https://www.usgbc.org/leedonline.new/

Similar to the change from LEED 2.2 to LEED 2009, the new portal has upgraded features and improves user integration. The forms have continued from LEED 2009 and have been updated to feature a new graphical layout. Users familiar with LEED 2009 will find the new portal similar to use.


The USGBC continues to provide incremental increases in requirements for certification of sustainable building design. With this new version of LEED, the USGBC is pushing us to move to the next level of sustainable design, beyond some of the measures that have become standard good design practice. LEED v4 also includes new or expanded credits for building reuse, building in blighted areas, metering, and process water, which may make these types of projects fare well under the new rating system.