Can LEED v4 Impact Your Interiors Project?

April 22, 2014

How the certification’s three biggest changes could affect your project.

Focusing on improvements inside the envelope, LEED for Commercial Interiors has been the LEED system of choice since its inception for tenants who don’t own the buildings they occupy or owners who can’t touch the exterior.

Like the rest of the LEED family, Commercial Interiors was beefed up in fall 2013 with the release of LEED v4 – and some of the changes inside could affect how you conduct your next interiors project if you’re considering green certification. The requirements of the new version promise to be more difficult to attain, but can result in a healthier, more efficient building than certifying to the previous version.

Project teams can continue to certify under LEED 2009 until June 2015, so if your tenant space is already on track to earn certification under the previous system, don’t panic. However, if your organization is looking to blaze a new trail, consider v4 – you might find its stronger requirements and extra attention to comfort worth the work. Three areas in particular promise increases in both effort and rewards.

Increased Energy and Water Efficiency
LEED v4 references the 2010 version of ASHRAE 90.1 in its Minimum Energy Performance prerequisite. This means the new system’s requirements are roughly 19% more rigorous than the 2007 version of 90.1, which was featured in LEED 2009.

“The energy efficiency threshold for projects will be higher, and that’s probably the biggest change that will impact the design and potential cost of projects,” says Corey Enck, director of LEED rating system development for USGBC. “The improved stringency of ASHRAE’s standard is the biggest increase the system has ever gone through.”

Commercial Interiors projects under both LEED 2009 and v4 must use 20% less water than a specified baseline, but that baseline has become tighter in several places. For example, commercial toilets no longer have a 3.5-gallon-per-flush exemption for blow-out fixtures, the rapid-flushing jet stream toilets used in heavy-duty installations like stadiums. Instead, all must now conform to the 1.6 gallons per flush limit. Commercial pre-rinse spray valves can use up to 1.3 gallons per minute, down from 2009’s baseline of 1.6.

For the first time, LEED v4 also addresses process equipment (such as cooling towers and evaporative condensers) and appliances such as ice machines and clothes washers. These items were previously declared outside the scope of LEED’s water use reduction calculation but now have performance requirements tied to ENERGY STAR or, in the case of commercial clothes washers, an ENERGY STAR-linked system developed by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency.

“There are a few ways we try to improve the performance of LEED-certified buildings in v4,” Enck explains. “One is through credits like Advanced Energy Metering, where we recognize the significance of tracking energy and water performance, as well as many other performance indicators. By requiring meters – or by incentivizing them in Commercial Interiors projects, where in most cases it’s difficult to install energy and water meters for specific tenant spaces – that helps project teams manage energy costs and improve overall performance.”

LEED v4’s New Interior Design & Construction Credits Category Credit Points          Highlights n/a Integrative Process 2
  • Encourages early analysis of energy, site, and water systems to inform design.
Location &
Transportation LEED for Neighborhood
Development Location 18
  • Offers a streamlined path to earn Location& Transportation points – the other L&T credits add up to 18 points as well.
  • Encourages selection of a LEED-ND certified site.
Energy & Atmosphere Advanced Energy Metering 2
  • For ID&C projects, includes options for installing a building-level energy meter and advanced meters for all energy end uses that represent 10% or more of total consumption.
Materials & Resources Prerequisite: Construction and Demolition Waste
Management Planning n/a
  • Requires setting a project target for waste management.
  • Mandates reporting of waste diversion rates.
Materials & Resources Environmental Product
Declarations 2
  • Rewards the use of products with Environmental Product Declarations.
Materials & Resources Sourcing of Raw Materials 2
  • Encourages transparency in the sourcing process.
  • Rewards products from manufacturers that provide information on land use, extraction locations, labor practices, etc.
Materials & Resources Material Ingredient
Reporting 2
  • Rewards the use of products with ingredient reporting using Health Product Declarations, Cradle to Cradle, or other third-party offerings.
  • Includes a third option for supply chain optimization.
Quality Interior Lighting 2
  • Includes the control requirements that formerly appeared in LEED 2009’s Controllability of Systems – Lighting credit.
  • Now addresses lighting quality.
Quality Acoustic Performance 2
  • Requires projects to comply with limits on room noise levels, speech privacy and sound isolation, reverberation time, and systems for paging, masking, and sound reinforcement.
  • Harmonizes ANSI and ASHRAE standards on the subject.

Material Sourcing and Transparency
The Materials & Resources category features some of the most prominent changes in LEED v4, with several familiar credits gone and a few new ones added.

“We’re shifting away from individually rewarding single attributes of materials,” explains Enck. “For v4, we’ve moved to a more holistic way of thinking.”

This means that rather than incentivizing flooring with a high percentage of recycled content or seating created within 500 miles of your facility, the new materials credits each have a tight focus that requires you to view the entire product from a certain angle – see “LEED v4’s New Interior Design & Construction Credits” on page 37. This change is in keeping with USGBC’s mission to gradually hold buildings to higher standards.

“In previous versions of LEED, we included credits around specifying products with low-VOC content. That was fairly new at the time, and there weren’t many around,” explains Enck. “Over time, LEED project teams asked for these products, and now it’s hard to find paints that have VOCs over the limit. The industry was transformed when people started to ask for low-VOC materials. It’s a similar idea with LEED v4 asking projects to source materials with Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), for example.”

Project teams may run into difficulty obtaining transparency information because the use of EPDs and other materials certifications is not yet common, explains Warren Neilson, director of projects for Environmental Building Strategies, a high performance building consultancy that’s currently working to certify its first LEED v4 project.

“The market is not particularly set up for complete transparency around materials,” Neilson says. “Obtaining materials from suppliers that provide full data around the health hazards and lifecycle impacts of their products will be a challenge in LEED v4 projects until the market catches up.”

Inside the Product Transparency Credits The three new product disclosure credits in the Materials & Resources category became the subject of considerable controversy during the v4 balloting process. But what do they actually require?

Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs)

For one point, use at least 20 permanently installed products from at least five manufacturers that meet one of USGBC’s disclosure options, including public lifecycle assessments conforming to ISO 14044, industry-wide or product-specific Environmental Product Declarations, or compliance with other approved EPD frameworks.
A second point is available for multi-attribute optimization. This requires utilizing products certified to demonstrate impact reduction below the industry average in categories like global warming potential, ozone depletion, or acidification of land and water, confirmed by either third-party certification or a USGBC-approved multi-attribute certification. Products counting toward this point should equal at least 50% (by cost) of the total value of permanently installed products in the project.

Sourcing of Raw Materials

Like the EPD credit, one point is offered for using at least 20 permanently installed products from at least five manufacturers that have released reports from their suppliers detailing extraction locations, a commitment to responsible land use, and other factors. Products with self-declared reports from manufacturers are counted as half a product, while those with third-party verified versions are counted as whole products. For another point, projects can meet one of six responsible extraction criteria for at least 25% (by cost) of the value of permanently installed building products; these include bio-based materials, certified wood products, and other attributes formerly represented in separate credits.

Material Ingredients

This credit offers three compliance paths, though only two points are available. One path focuses on chemical inventories for permanently installed products, with another relying on GreenScreen, Cradle to Cradle, and other compliance paths. A third rewards the use of products sourced from manufacturers with robust ingredient documentation and communication. Each credit is worth up to two points. All three value products extracted, manufactured, or purchased with 100 miles of the project site at 200% of their base cost to reward local purchasing.

A New Emphasis on Occupant Comfort
Acoustic performance made its LEED debut during v4’s release in November due to its frequent appearances on occupant comfort surveys, Enck says. “Given that it was such a recurring theme, we felt that we needed to address that within the Indoor Environmental Quality section,” he adds.

A survey of 203 BUILDINGS readers revealed the credit’s potential popularity with FMs, with multiple respondents naming acoustics when asked what they’d change about their buildings and one adding “You can always hear what is going on in the adjoining office spaces, including telephone calls and ‘private’ meetings.”

To earn the two points v4 allocates for acoustic performance, projects must meet the HVAC noise levels prescribed by the ASHRAE 2011 Applications Handbook and achieve minimum ratings for sound transmission and reverberation time. Spaces that can seat more than 50 people must also be evaluated for AV playback and sound reinforcement to ensure the sound in the space is intelligible.

Interior Certification Alternatives

LEED-CI isn’t the only option for tenant spaces. These green building certifications also offer designations for interior projects.

Name Scope Process Criteria Class-G
Requirements apply equally to buildings and tenant spaces, according to class-g.org.Complete a checklist to benchmark your level of sustainability, which takes as little as 60 minutes. Upload information and receive a plaque with your score on it. A wish list feature tracks your next set of goals and promotes continuous improvement.Commitment to sustainable operations in air and health, energy, water, materials, and waste reduction categories.Green Globes
The Fit-Up option is designed for new or remodeled commercial interiors.Complete an online assessment form that generates a report on your facility. To earn full certification, an independent third party must confirm the assessment.The survey focuses on energy, water, resources and materials, emissions, indoor environment, and management practices.Living Building Challenge
Petal certification (partial credit named after the seven "petals" of the full certification) is possible if you choose tenant-friendly petals to fulfill. The Midwest Offices of the Natural Resources Defense Council is the first tenant improvement project to achieve this so far.After meeting the imperatives in your chosen Petals, upload documentation through an online portal. The institute reviews your paperwork and sends an auditor for an on-site review.For Petal certification, projects must fulfill at least three Petals, including at least one from Water, Energy, or Materials. The NRDC office chose Materials, Site, and Beauty.SERF
A certification option for office suites eliminates requirements that are irrelevant or impractical for tenants.Score your building on the application, making sure to provide explanations for any physical or cost constraints that prohibit you from achieving some credits. Have the data verified by a third-party architect or engineer.The office suite certification is based on energy and water use, furnishings, recycling, reducing commuting practices, and other tenant-achievable categories.

Which Version Fits Your Project?
Because LEED 2009 won’t expire for another 13 months, you can take the time to weigh the benefits of both current versions. It pays to make the decision as early in the process as possible, Neilson says – targeting any LEED certification too late can have inconvenient (and expensive) consequences.

“Some of the most difficult situations we have are project teams that started too late,” Neilson says. “They’re trying to push credit requirements out of a project that’s already going in a specific direction, so by the time they decide to go for LEED certification they’re through a significant majority of the design and maybe even construction. The sooner you start, the better results you have in terms of credits you can go for with the biggest ROI.”

LEED 2009 may be easier to certify under because the market has mostly adapted to its requirements. However, certifying to the higher standards mandated in v4 results in a more tightly controlled building.

“Projects can stick with LEED 2009 for now, but the leaders will be thinking about the new credits, new requirements, and greater opportunities around improved efficiency and indoor environmental quality,” says Neilson. “To demonstrate leadership, you’ve really got to go with v4.”

Janelle Penny is senior editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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