Energy Services

LEED v4 Energy Updates Coming!

Effective March 1, 2024, USGBC is launching updates to LEED v4 that impact the energy performance assessment of LEED building projects. These updates apply to the energy prerequisite and credit of all Building Design and Construction (BD+C) – residential and commercial – and Interior Design and Construction (ID+C) projects registered after March 1.  Projects that are already registered in LEED Online or that register prior to March 1 are not affected.

To be considered registered, a project must have signed the electronic Certification Agreement (i.e., register on LEED Online) prior to March 1. Payment of the registration fee is not strictly required by this date, but a project must pay the registration fee within the stipulated timeline. Failure to do so may force a project to re-register and be subject to the LEED version in effect at the time of re-registration, including this update.

Overview of the New Requirements:

The LEED v4 Energy Update introduces several key changes intended to enhance energy performance and reduce emissions.

First and foremost, the update raises the thresholds for energy performance. For example, the energy prerequisite now requires a 10% energy reduction, twice the previous threshold of 5% (see Tables 5 and 6 below for updated credit thresholds for Multifamily residential projects). LEED is known to be a leading (no pun intended) rating system for demonstrating energy efficiency, but the last big update to their energy requirements came from LEED v4 in 2013! The building industry has come leaps and bounds by then, with an influx of energy-efficient design and greater development of a policy landscape that incentivizes or mandates energy efficiency. More stringent thresholds will allow LEED to continue pushing the envelope and be the mark of a building that goes beyond standard design.

Secondly, the update introduces a new greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions metric. Compared to the current LEED requirements that assess energy performance using energy cost only, introducing a GHG emissions metric means that the “green-ness” of a project’s local energy grid will now play a part. Projects located in an area with a grid with lower fossil fuel usage and greater renewable energy sourcing (such as the PNW) will be rewarded compared to projects with fossil fuel-heavy grids.

Additionally, projects will have the option to measure energy efficiency using energy cost or source energy. This change addresses a previous challenge with using energy cost reductions as a metric due to the generally higher cost of electricity. The option to consider source energy rather than cost will ease barriers to electrification. Another way that the changes favor our PNW projects as municipalities continue to push for electrification.

Lastly, for Multifamily projects, LEED awards points for designing relatively small unit sizes, known as the Home Size Adjuster. The update reduces the number of points awarded for the Home Size Adjuster.

For more information and details surrounding energy updates for LEED v4, check out the updated rating system documents here.

So…what exactly does that mean for future projects?

Since the update changes the thresholds for energy performance and the methodology to calculate it, it may not be clear how this translates to a project’s ability to satisfy the energy prerequisite and earn points through the associated credit. Luckily, our Energy Team is here to help with two examples of Multifamily projects using the previous and new requirements. Note that these examples do not represent all projects, as the new calculations are highly dependent on project specifics and location.

Case Study 1: Midrise Multifamily Project in Bellingham, WA

This project featured a design consistent with the baseline 2015 Washington Energy Code, did not have heat pumps for heating/cooling, and used a mixture of electric and gas energy sources.

Previous requirements:

Using the previous methodology, this example project achieved 19.3% cost savings, satisfying the prerequisite and resulting in 14 points for energy performance. It also achieved 13.5 additional points due to the Home Size Adjuster. Overall, the project achieved 27.5 points for this credit.

After the March 1 update:

Using the new methodology and thresholds, the project’s 19.3% energy cost savings plus 19.4% GHG reductions still satisfy the prerequisite but now result in only 8 points for energy performance. It would now also only achieve 7.5 points for the Home Size Adjuster. After the update, the project would achieve a total of 15.5 points for this credit, an overall loss of 12 points compared to the previous requirements.

Case Study #2: Highrise Multifamily Project in Seattle, WA

This project used heat pumps for the majority of its space conditioning and domestic hot water (with the remainder supplied through gas boilers) for a more energy-efficient design consistent with the 2015 Seattle Energy Code.

Previous requirements:

This higher-performing example achieved 30.4% cost savings, satisfying the prerequisite and earning 20 for energy performance. It also achieved 11 additional points due to the Home Size Adjuster. The total is 31 points, so the project achieved the maximum limit for this credit of 30 points.

After the March 1 update:

With 30.4% cost savings and 30.00% GHG savings, the project satisfies the prerequisite and achieves 18 points for energy performance under the new thresholds. The project earns 6 additional points through the updated Home Size Adjuster. Overall, this second example achieves 24 points, 6 points fewer than prior to the update.

While the update resulted in fewer points for both projects, these two examples demonstrate that less energy-efficient projects are expected to be impacted more. Looking only at points awarded for energy performance, the first example, with a more standard level of energy efficiency, lost 6 points, while the more energy-efficient second example lost only 2 points.

The impact on points awarded due to the Home Size Adjuster, however, is more consistent, resulting in a ~43% reduction in Home Size Adjuster points for both projects.

Figure 1. Table 5 and Table 6 from the updated requirements for LEED v4 Multifamily EA Credit: Annual Energy Use. Points from the two tables are added to yield the total energy performance points.

Figure 2. This graph from USGBC demonstrates the change in thresholds in the update compared to the previous requirements. The graph assumes equal savings for the cost and greenhouse gas emissions metrics.

Rushing is here to help:

We are excited to see LEED updates that push the industry to excel, but we understand that this may be daunting for building owners and architects. If you have a project down the line considering LEED certification, this is your call to register now before the March 1 deadline hits. We are happy to assist with the registration process. And if your project misses the deadline, Rushing is here to support your project to achieve best-in-class energy efficiency and meet even the most stringent of LEED requirements. Whether you’re working on commercial, residential, or interiors projects, now or a year from now, Rushing’s teams are here to support you every step of the way.

Stay tuned for further updates and resources to help you navigate the LEED v4 Energy Update effectively. Thank you for your commitment to sustainability and for partnering with Rushing to create buildings that inspire, conserve resources, and promote healthy living environments.