Canadian Consulting Engineer

The New LEED

May 1, 2014
By By Steve Kemp, P.Eng., David Rekker, and Braden Kurczak, P.Eng., MMM Group

LEED has emerged as North America’s de facto green building rating system since it debuted a decade ago. The newest iteration of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) — "v4" as it is called — is already in...

LEED has emerged as North America’s de facto green building rating system since it debuted a decade ago. The newest iteration of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) — “v4” as it is called — is already in effect in the U.S. and will be released in Canada, complete with Canadian Alternate Compliance Paths, this June.

Of course the first question developers, architects and their engineers have about the new rating system is: “Will it be easier or more difficult to get certified?” The answer is: it’s different. It will be more difficult in some areas, but allow for more flexibility in others. While many of the technical details of LEED have changed, the new rating system is more about a shift in its big picture philosophy and a reprioritization of its key environmental goals and related credits.

Perhaps the most noticeable changes for those “on the ground” in building design and development, will be around site impacts and materials.


Originally the philosophy behind LEED was to reward designs that did as little harm as possible to the environment. With LEEDv4, the overarching goal is to promote positive actions. Practically speaking, this new mantra is reflected in encouraging more integrative design practices and promoting transparency in reporting.

Another change with LEEDv4 is that the delineation between a LEED BD&C (Building Design & Construction) project and a LEED EB:O&M (Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance) project has become more clear. The operations-related credits in BD&C, such as Measurement & Verification, have been weighted less given that BD&C’s focus is on design through the end of construction rather than post-occupancy performance.

LEEDv4 will be the most flexible LEED system released in Canada. There’s still the same level of detail, but more flexibility for adapting it to the conditions and realities of different building types. Anyone familiar with LEED Canada v1, v1.1, and v2009, will appreciate the approach of one rating system to rule overall, i.e. they have one base system with various application guides to allow flexibility in building types that do not fit the traditional LEED paradigm (e.g., Core and Shell, Campus).

Combined into one 800+ page reference manual, LEEDv4 has adopted this bookshelf approach. The new reference guide now provides unique direction, and in some cases new available points, for each of the following building types:

• New Construction

• Core and Shell

• Schools

• Retail

• Warehouse and Distribution

• Hospitality

• Healthcare

This is a positive change in Canada, where we have struggled to fit some of these building types, especially warehouse and hospitality, into the LEED mould.


There are two new credit categories in LEEDv4: the Integrative Process, and Location and Transportation.

Integrative Process

The Integrative Process (IP) category includes a new credit for teams who conduct a discovery study on how to improve the energy and water efficiency of the proposed design. There is a prerequisite for healthcare projects and a credit (worth 1-5 points) for other building types. The team must also implement and document how the discovery study then improved the design and was incorporated into the owner’s program requirements and basis of design.

Location and Transportation

This new credit category, which was adopted from the LEED ND framework, rewards thoughtful decisions about building locations. It incorporates many of the LEED 2009 Sustainable Sites credits related to the surrounding community and its infrastructure. The points available here include for sensitive land protection, high priority sites (e.g. brownfields), surrounding density and diverse uses, access to transit, bicycle facilities, a reduced parking footprint, and green vehicles.


Sustainable Sites

Having had many of its traditional credits pulled into the category above, the Sustainable Sites category has undergone a minor facelift.

Notable additions include an overview of the site characteristics: a new prerequisite for schools and healthcare built around identifying potential environmental contamination. There is also the addition of a general site assessment, focused on the way a development integrates with its surrounding soils, vegetation, wind, water and human activities. Other credits have been added for specific building types (e.g. places of respite for healthcare).

The points related to rainwater (“quantity” and “quality”) have been combined into one credit, seeking to have sites behave the same way post-development as pre-development under frequent rainfall conditions. Most of the other Sites points have been refined, allowing for clearer or more flexible compliance paths.

Water Efficiency

The major change for these credits is that there are now three prerequisites. First, each building must have a water meter. Second, outdoor water use must be reduced by at least 30%. Third, the building must show a 20% reduction in indoor water use compared to standard practice. More emphasis has been put on understanding where water is used in that further points are available for end-use metering. Additionally, point opportunities are available for reducing process water, specifically in cooling towers.

Energy and Atmosphere

Building energy performance through commissioning and energy efficiency remains a common thread in this section of LEEDv4. Happily, building envelope commissioning is now included as an option for enhanced commissioning.

It’s interesting that the point count for energy efficiency changes is based on the type of building — up to 16 points for schools, 20 for healthcare and 18 for the remainder. Other positives: a prerequisite for building level energy metering and a credit for design for demand response.

One disappointment of LEEDv4, though understandable considering the focus on the “new building” rather than long term operations, is the apparent watering down of the measurement and verification credit (now called advanced energy metering). Yes you still need meters; yes you still need a plan. It’s questionable, however, if you need to execute the plan and show that your building is performing. We expect most forward thinking building owners will look beyond the point requirements and will see the benefit of true measurement and verification to improve their buildings’ operations.

Materials and Resources

This category has perhaps the most significant changes. Transparency is the focus. Product suppliers will need to up their game to meet LEED requirements. They will have to complete life-cycle assessments, third-party declarations, ingredient disclosure, and provide the source of raw materials. In fact, some leading-edge suppliers have anticipated the shift and are already incorporating Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) in their literature.

There are also a significant number of points (2-6) available for a building life-cycle impact reduction. The points can be achieved by reusing a heritage or blighted building, or by conducting a whole-building life-cycle assessment using the Athena Impact Estimator Calculator to prove a 10% reduction in three of the six material impact categories.

Indoor Environmental Quality

Two of the main changes to this category are lighting control and acoustic performance.

In v4, at least 90% of individual occupant spaces must have individual lighting controls with at least three lighting levels (e.g. on, off, mid-level). For shared, multi-occupant spaces, there must be multi-zone control systems that allow for occupant control with at least three lighting levels.

A common complaint in modern offic
es (not just LEED projects) is the acoustic quality in open concept spaces. To address this problem, v4 requires a minimum acoustic performance for schools using sound-absorbent materials and provides a point for achieving a high acoustic performance in other building types in terms of reverberation time, speech privacy and noise isolation, room noise levels, and paging and sound masking systems.

Occupant thermal comfort is still included, with some modifications. Occupant visual comfort is now better addressed through the inclusion of quality views and interior lighting credits. The former promotes interesting sights outside your window (and no, swaying trees don’t count as interesting). The latter appears easily achieved through the use of direct/indirect lighting fixtures.

Innovation and

Regional Priority

For the most part, the concepts in this category are consistent with v2009. That is, there are six points available for innovative concepts, one of which is linked to the LEED AP (with relevant specialty). Regional priority credits remain organized according to urban and rural areas, but are aligned along climatic regions rather than provincial boundaries.


Since LEEDv4 was developed by the US Green Building Council, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) Technical Advisory Groups have been working hard to identify relevant nuances in the Canadian market and propose Alternative Compliance Paths. ACPs are credit adaptations that allow the more U.S.-centric credits to be better applied to an international context without reducing the basic performance metrics of LEED. The ACPs for Canada are expected to be released in June.

Canadian projects can already apply using the US LEEDv4 system, and there is a grace period for Canadian projects to choose to use LEED 2009 or v4, which lasts until June 2015. The CaGBC is currently looking for pilot projects to test v4.

It should be noted that the LEED Accredited Professional (AP) tests are also slated to be revised to the v4 rules around June.

Overall LEEDv4 stands as a step change in the right direction. It is the inevitable evolution of a rating system geared to encouraging the top tier of buildings to quantify their benefits. While raising the bar for some credits, it affords additional flexibility. It clarifies the documentation requirements and promises all the benefits of LEED Online to expedite the submission and review process. All of these are positives for the green building movement in this country. cce

Steve Kemp, P.Eng., M.A.Sc., LEED AP BD+C, David Rekker LEED AP BD+C, and Braden Kurczak, P.Eng., LEED AP BD+C, are with the buildings-sustainability group at MMM Group in Kitchener, Ont. They are also on Technical Advisory Groups for the Canada Green Building Council.


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