Understanding What’s New with LEED v4


The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently released LEED v4, the newest version of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED). While projects can still use LEED 2009 until June 2015, it’s important to know what changes are to come with the new version.

About LEED Certification

LEED Certification is a third party program that is a nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings. It was developed in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council and offers validation of a project’s green features.

LEED Certification is a point-based system where a project can earn points for satisfying specific green building criteria. There are four levels of certification—Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum—each requiring a minimum amount of points and prerequisites.


While some of the prerequisites and credits are virtually the same as the 2009 version, there have been some significant changes. Many of the modifications are focused on the project’s continued performance, rather than just the design. It also has made site selection and consideration more important and provides extra incentive for integrated project delivery (IPD).

Below each of the credit categories is detailed, including how they have been changed for v4.

Location and Transportation

This new credit category rewards projects for using a variety of transportation options and addresses sustainable communities. Many of these credits were found in the Sustainable Sites category in LEED 2009, but have been amended and included here.

One of the new features includes points for building on LEED for Neighborhood Development certified sites, as well as credit for “high priority sites.” Projects can earn points for building in historic districts, on brownfield remediation sites or on a site with “priority designation,” such as a site on an EPA National Priorities List.

Materials and Resources

This credit category encourages the use of sustainable building materials and reducing waste on site, and has arguably been changed the most for v4. The new credits include “Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction” and “Building Product Disclosure and Optimization.”

The Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction credit encourages reuse and lessens the building’s environmental impact. There are four options for a project to achieve: historic building reuse, renovation of abandoned or blighted buildings, building and material reuse or a whole-building life-cycle assessment.

The Building Product Disclosure and Optimization credit encourages projects to use materials that have a limited environmental impact through their lifetimes. This gives a more comprehensive view of the material’s sustainability and incentivizes product manufacturers to be more transparent on what ingredients and processes they use.

Water Efficiency

The Water Efficiency credit category promotes smarter use of water and reducing potable water consumption. In version v4, outdoor water use reduction is no longer optional. In addition, building-level water metering is now a prerequisite as well—requiring projects to install water meters for a selection of various water subsystems, such as irrigation, domestic hot water and indoor plumbing fixtures.

Energy and Atmosphere

Promoting better building energy performance through innovative strategies is the goal of this credit category. While it still addresses commissioning, green power and renewable energy, it now requires building-energy metering as a new prerequisite. Projects must now track the total building energy consumption at least monthly for five years and report the measurements back to the USGBC. This change is consistent with the v4 version adding emphasis on building performance post construction, rather than just design.

Sustainable Sites

This category encourages strategies that minimize the impact on ecosystems and water resources, including construction activity pollution prevention, heat island reduction and including open space adjacent to the building. One notable change is that stormwater management credits are now referred to as “Rainwater Management.” This credit allows two options for compliance: percentile of rainfall events or natural land cover conditions. “Site Assessment” is another new feature that awards one point to projects that assess the site’s condition before design for features such as topography, hydrology, climate, vegetation, soils, human use and human health effects.

Indoor Environmental Quality

This credit addresses indoor air quality, access to daylight and views, thermal comfort, low emitting materials and a construction indoor air quality management plan. New in this category is “Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies” that includes a requirement for increased ventilation, as well as carbon dioxide monitoring, entryway systems, cross-contamination prevention, filtration and air contamination prevention and monitoring. 


Previously called “Innovation in Design,” this credit is very similar to the 2009 version. Projects still earn points for using innovative strategies. There is only one point available for having at least one LEED AP as a principal participant on the project.

Regional Priority

Regional Priority credits encourage projects to pursue credits with regional environmental significance. Projects can earn up to four bonus points for meeting requirements that have been deemed important in the project’s specific geographical area. This credit category is the essentially the same as the LEED 2009 version. In addition, projects can earn up to one point for using collaborative design process from the pre-design phase through the design phases.


The new LEED v4 changes will help green building continue to progress by putting more emphasis on a building’s ongoing performance rather than just the design. LEED Certification is a complex process that requires a contractor and project team that understands the system thoroughly. If you are considering targeting LEED certification for your next project, be sure your team has experience in the LEED process, and understands the forthcoming updates to the program scoring.

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