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LEED BD+C v4.1: Should I upgrade?

These are the v4.1 credits you might want to substitute in v4 new construction projects.
Trista Little, Erika Duran, and Paula Melton
August 19, 2020

Update: We updated this blog post on 2/9/2021 to reflect major changes made in the Q4 2020 addenda.

In this blog post, we provide a rundown of the v4.1 credits that are easy wins, mixed bags, and unanticipated landmines to help you navigate the opportunities for upgrading to v4.1. Remember: for Building Design & Construction Projects (BD+C), you can substitute any v4.1 credit just by choosing that option in LEED Online.

LEED v4.1 logo
Image: USGBC

Easy wins

Let’s start with the easy wins. The following credits are great candidates for upgrading to v4.1 because they clarify requirements, offer more flexibility, and open up new compliance pathways.

LTc4: Surrounding Density and Diverse Uses

Adding the option to use WalkScore makes this credit less tedious to document. Demonstrating compliance with this previously documentation-heavy credit now includes a screen shot of the project’s Walkscore. If we could give a Walkscore to this credit update it would be a 100!

LTc6: Bicycle Facilities

Relaxed thresholds makes this credit more realistic for projects of all types. The walking distances for short- and long-term storage has been increased, providing teams with some additional design flexibility. Residential projects have reduced thresholds for long-term bicycle storage. Buildings with large occupant populations also get a break in terms of showering and changing facilities. And bike sharing stations now contribute to compliance. While these updates may make the credit easier, we strongly encourage teams to be mindful of building occupants’ needs and potential commuting habits. Don’t shortchange them on bike amenities if they’re likely to want or need them.

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LTc7: Reduced Parking Footprint

This credit has been fundamentally re-written and expands the available strategies. New options have been added for no off-street parking, providing parking for carshare vehicles, and for unbundling parking. The reduced parking option has been cleaned up, and the thresholds relative to LTc4: Surrounding Density & Diverse Uses removed, making this option easier to understand and implement. With these new and improved options, there are a lot more ways to earn this point.

SSc2: Protect or Restore Habitat

The minimum thresholds for achievement of both options have been reduced, making the credit easier and less costly to achieve for any project. Additional improvements include revised and clarified soil restoration requirements, and clarifications around native/adapted plant species. Finally, vegetated roofs now contribute regardless of your project’s density.

SSc4: Rainwater Management

The rainfall retention thresholds have been reduced, making the credit much more achievable for all projects. Additionally, the credit language has been cleaned up, and Option 2 (natural land cover conditions) and Option 3 (permeable lot area) were removed, which may help teams focus on implementing best practices rather than slogging through unclear requirements.

WEc3: Cooling Tower and Process Water Use

This credit has two new options that broaden the credit’s scope and give more choice to project teams. These include an option for projects that do not have a cooling tower, and an option that rewards teams for using recycled water for process water uses. Any project that wants to take advantage of these new options should upgrade to v4.1. Core and Shell projects should upgrade if they can meet the requirements for the newly available three-point threshold (found under Options 1 and 3 only). Projects complying via Option 1 should review the results of their make-up water analysis against the requirements in v4 and v4.1 to see how many points are likely to be achieved. Note that, in general, water savings should increase while levels of treatment may decrease as a result of the clarifications to the credit language and the methodology used to document a project’s compliance.

MRc1: Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction

Several new choices offered under v4.1 could put this credit in reach for a lot more projects. Path 1 is especially helpful as it provides an entryway into LCA for first timers—conduct an LCA, earn a point. Teams that define a baseline and demonstrate improvement will have an easier time reaching the v4.1 thresholds, which have been relaxed in some cases compared to v4.

MRc2: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Environmental Product Declarations

Upgrading on this one is a no-brainer since you can, in theory, show reduced environmental impacts, which was impossible under LEED v4. The credit thresholds under Option 2 have been drastically reduced, and project teams can now skip the “by cost” calculation entirely.

MRc3: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Sourcing of Raw Materials

This credit has been restructured and is much more realistic for projects to achieve. With a second point now theoretically achievable, and with no limit on structure and enclosure products, an upgrade is definitely worth looking into. You could also benefit if you plan to reuse materials.

MRc4: Building Product Disclosure and Optimization - Material Ingredients

The major changes to this credit align it better with where the market actually is. Hitting Option 1 was already achievable, but stretching to Option 2 is now potentially doable as well. This is a great option for upgrading.

EQc4: Indoor Air Quality Assessment

Structural improvements to this credit make it possible to achieve one point for passing a particulates and inorganic gases test, and a second point for passing a VOC test. Additionally, the list of required CDPH VOCs has been reduced from 35 to just 12. This helps align the credit with the testing industry’s capabilities, and makes it a good candidate for upgrading. While your chances of passing tests are much better, remember that there’s still a risk of having to retest and incur additional costs.

EQc6: Interior Lighting

The credit has been overhauled to reflect what designers and experts on interior lighting are likely to prioritize. It might be easier to convince your team to pursue this credit.

EQc7: Daylight

The thresholds are now more achievable, and we think that providing some measurable daylight to occupants is certainly better than providing none. The maximum ASE requirement has been removed and replaced with the requirement to provide a narrative on addressing glare. Additionally, there are now more points available for higher levels of performance—and in some cases, exemplary performance.

Mixed bag

For this set of credits, upgrading to v4.1 is a mixed bag. The benefits of switching are likely to differ from project to project and can depend on the specific compliance pathway selected. And in some cases, the balance between point achievability and environmental outcomes can be tricky to navigate. We recommend that project teams complete a deeper investigation of these credits before upgrading.

LTc3: High-Priority Site and Equitable Development

The new paths under this credit offer great opportunities for bringing green building to the areas where it’s most needed. We’re excited to see how teams approach the new option to develop and implement an equity plan. This credit is a mixed bag if you were planning an infill project in a historic district, since you’ll no longer get LEED points for that choice.

LTc5: Access to Quality Transit

With the new tiers of compliance, you could potentially earn more points. But if you’re relying exclusively on commuter rail or ferry service, you’re going to find the old LEED v4 version of this credit much easier to achieve. Note that the v4.1 version allows for “project-sponsored” transit service to be used as a method of compliance.

LTc8: Electric Vehicles

Teams that were already planning to achieve credit for preferred parking under v4 should probably stick with that plan, unless there’s sufficient time to pivot to meet the new v4.1 requirements. The v4.1 credit encourages electric vehicle charging infrastructure, which will produce huge environmental benefits over the lifetime of your project—so it’s probably worth investing in. It’s even possible to achieve the credit just by adding the infrastructure for stations without necessarily installing them right now.

SSc2: Protect or Restore Habitat

Thresholds were reduced from 30% to 15% and 25% for one and two points, respectively. This allows for more projects to be able to participate in the credit. However, the option for financial contribution has been removed. This limits projects in urban areas, where utilizing the site for restoration efforts will be limited.

SSc3: Open Space

Some projects may benefit from upgrading to v4.1. For example, a project with turf grass or a lower-density building with a vegetated roof will both find that this credit may be achievable under v4.1. Teams that want to claim open space that’s adjacent to the project or in another location within a master plan development should stick with v4.

EAp2/c2: Minimize/Optimize Energy Performance

Upgrading may be a heavy lift because the referenced standard has been updated to ASHRAE 90.1–2016, which may be above your local code, but project teams that upgrade to v4.1 will demonstrate true leadership in energy and greenhouse gas emission performance.

EAc4: Grid Harmonization

This credit includes a new load flexibility and management strategies option, and interested teams should definitely upgrade. Some adjustments have been made to the demand-response program requirements; teams considering DR should review the specifics before upgrading.

EAc5: Renewable Energy

The thresholds for both onsite and offsite renewables are more difficult to achieve. However, the changes to this credit can produce greater benefits to the environment, and so upgrading is worth considering.

EQc2: Low-Emitting Materials

There’s no doubt that this credit has gotten far more achievable, so if you’re looking for more points, it’s an easy win. However, it may have gotten too easy. It doesn’t provide the same level of air quality protection that v4 did, given the lowered thresholds for compliance. This change has a particularly big impact for material installers. So if you’re concerned about occupants and tradespeople, we recommend sticking with v4.

EQc6: Interior Lighting

The credit has been overhauled to reflect what designers and experts on interior lighting are likely to prioritize. It might be easier to convince your team to pursue this credit.

RPc1: Regional Priority

Teams should confirm the mix of regional priority credits available under v4 and v4.1 before deciding to upgrade or not.

Unanticipated landmines

Thankfully, there are few unanticipated landmines in v4.1. We’ve identified just one credit that’s an obvious fit for this category. Please let us know in the comments below if your team has come across any other credits to be wary of.

SSc5: Heat Island Reduction

This credit is generally more difficult to achieve no matter which option you’re considering. It’s also not clear whether the updated requirements lead to substantially better environmental outcomes. Teams that want to use LEED Interpretation #5370 or #10411 should consider staying with v4, or confirming applicability for v4.1 projects first. We recommend reviewing the options carefully to determine how v4.1 would impact your specific project.

MRp2/MRc5: Construction and demolition waste management

The prerequisite has been removed, and now the credit has both the waste planning and the diversion requirements. The material streams requirement has been removed, which is a simplification of the credit language, and having to define a ‘material stream’ is no longer necessary. Only meeting the 50% diversion achieves one point. Two points can be achieved through waste reduction and material reuse. The restructuring of the credit seems to be simplified. However, the shift of focus onto waste reduction puts more effort on the construction manager, whereas previously, it was easier to rely on the waste hauler’s documentation.

Date updated: 
Tuesday, February 9, 2021

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December 17, 2020 - 4:24 pm

Hi Courtney - there's no sunset date yet for v4. And USGBC recently extended the sunset date for v2009 (for registered projects). So I don't expect that they'll require v4.1 any time soon. This blog post might be of interest: https://leeduser.buildinggreen.com/blog/equity-health-and-other-highligh....

December 9, 2020 - 9:48 am

Thanks so much, Trista! That was great help, and I am always open to learning how people approach things differently. Thanks for sharing!

Last question, do you have any idea when LEED O&M v4.1 will be required to be used?  

Thanks so much!


December 7, 2020 - 9:17 pm

Hi Courtney - this is a great suggestion for a blog post!

EBOM v4 and v4.1 are so different that it's hard to provide a concise answer to your question. Version 4 is sort of a known entity (you know the credits, you know the point values, you know the strategies needed to achieve the credits, etc). Version 4.1 is, to me, a lot more opaque. You really have to enter building performance data into the Arc platform to see how you score against the back-end methodology.

So all that said, my general approach has been the following. (And this is just me, I'm sure other approaches work well based on someone's experience, client needs, etc). But first I do a v4 feasiblity assessment to see where a project lands. If an acceptable certification level is out of reach, I move over to completing a feasiblity assessment under v4.1, for the categories where data is more readily available (ie - energy, water, waste). And then I regroup and figure out which option looks like the best to move forward with. It's not a super clean process but given the differences between the two programs, I've found that's what works best for my projects. Hope that helps!

December 7, 2020 - 11:05 am

This was very helpful!  I am wondering if such an article exists for the LEED O&M rating system? I am trying to determine if the project should register as v4 or v4.1, but I haven't concluded yet which path to choose! 

Can anyone offer any advice or anything to consider? 

Thank you,


September 3, 2020 - 12:34 pm

That's a great tip.

September 3, 2020 - 10:55 am

The v4.1 of this credit is an easy win if you were planning on pursuing the v4 option 1 (path that most projects pursue), it removes the requirement for preferred parking which most owners are happy about and keeps the requirement for electric vehicle charging stations at the same thresholds. 

September 3, 2020 - 9:13 am

Glad it was helpful to you, Andres.

September 2, 2020 - 6:58 pm

Great piece of advice- thanks for sharing it.