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LEED O+M v4.1: Should I go for it?

Existing building projects must choose between v4 and v4.1. Unlike with the design and construction rating systems, one-off credit substitutions are not allowed.
Trista Brown
March 7, 2022

In this blog post, we provide a rundown of the v4.1 credits to help you navigate the opportunities and drawbacks to pursuing v4.1 compared to v4. Remember: for Operations and Maintenance (O+M) projects, teams must choose between the entire v4 and v4.1 rating systems.

Easy Wins

Let’s start with the easy wins. We’ve identified just one prerequisite 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 that are preferable in their v4.1 form due to clarified requirements, added flexibility, or new compliance pathways.

MRp1: Purchasing Policy

The v4 version of this prerequisite covered both purchasing and waste management. The v4.1 prerequisite has been re-focused exclusively on purchasing, making it easier to achieve. This is particularly true for any project with a low waste diversion rate. Under v4, any project that couldn’t divert 75% of ongoing waste had to perform a waste stream audit. This requirement has been removed in v4.1 along with all other waste-related requirements.

Mixed Bag

LEED v4.1 is a mixed bag for this group of credits. The benefits are likely to differ from project to project and can depend on the specific compliance pathway selected. In a few cases, the change to v4.1 means that the Arc platform must be used to determine compliance, which can complicate things further.

LTp1: Transportation Performance

There’s been a fundamental shift in how alternative transportation is assessed with the introduction of v4.1. As a quick refresher, the v4 credit assesses how many conventional commuting trips are taken by occupants compared to a baseline case that assumes every occupant commutes alone in a conventional vehicle. The v4.1 prerequisite assesses the greenhouse gas emissions (in CO2e) resulting from building occupant commuting practices. Many more factors feed into the v4.1 performance score than the conventional transit survey from v4—distance traveled, transit mode, and CO2e per mile are all assessed. The Arc platform also compares your survey results against other high-performing buildings worldwide (i.e., other LEED-certified projects).

All of this means that the only way to determine your v4.1 transportation performance score is to conduct the survey through Arc. If you anticipate that most occupants commute using modes that are low CO2e (such as walk, bike, telecommute, motorcycle, heavy rail, or carpool) then you may be well positioned to achieve a high transportation performance score. But the only way to confirm whether you’ll earn more points under v4 or v4.1 is to complete both types of surveys, which may be onerous for many projects.

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Your preferred method for distributing the survey is also important to consider. Arc captures survey responses electronically through an online survey. If using paper surveys is your preferred approach, you’ll want to stick with v4.

And finally, the points available under the two rating system versions may impact your decision. LEED v4 offers up to 15 points (plus one additional point for Exemplary Performance), while v4.1 offers up to 14 points. Note that Exemplary Performance has been eliminated in v4.1.

SSc4: Site Management

The site management prerequisite in v4 has changed to a credit under v4.1. Some requirements have been removed, clarified, or streamlined—but new requirements have also been added. For example, v4.1 projects must complete a mandatory site assessment to document natural areas that provide habitat, and create an integrated pest management plan. Additionally, irrigation systems must have automatic controls, and organic matter mulch must be applied to vegetation annually. We recommend taking a close look at the requirements to determine which version is best for your project.

EAp3: Energy Performance

LEED v4.1 says goodbye to EPA’s ENERGY STAR program. The only way to determine your v4.1 energy performance score is to enter 12 months of total energy use data into Arc. Projects that use low-carbon energy sources or have invested in energy-efficiency projects may be good candidates for upgrading. However, the only way to determine which method produces a better points outcome is to benchmark your building with ENERGY STAR and with Arc.

The points available under the two rating system versions may also impact your decision. LEED v4 offers up to 20 points (plus one additional point for Exemplary Performance), while v4.1 offers up to 33 points. Note that Exemplary Performance has been eliminated in v4.1.

EAc2: Grid Harmonization

The main thing to change for this credit is its points value. Under v4, teams could earn up to three points depending on which compliance option was pursued. Under v4.1, all compliance options are worth only one point. We recommend double-checking the number of points available for the compliance option you plan to pursue. And other than point values, not much else has changed.

WEp1: Water Performance

The only way to determine your v4.1 water performance score is to enter 12 months of total potable water use data into Arc. Sites with large landscaped areas that require substantial amounts of irrigation water may score poorly on Arc. You can earn up to 15 points under v4.1, compared to 12 points for all credits in the v4 Water Efficiency category. Teams that can earn a large number of points with a high water performance score may find that approach preferable to documenting multiple v4 WE credits.

MRp3: Waste Performance

Once again, the only way to determine your v4.1 waste performance score is to enter 12 months of total waste data (or the results of at least one waste audit) into Arc. Remember that data for ongoing waste and durable goods waste need to be included on Arc for this prerequisite, but facility maintenance and renovation waste must be excluded. Projects with robust composting and recycling programs, or that generate low quantities of weight compared to occupant headcount, are more likely to perform well on the Arc platform. You can earn up to eight points under v4.1—this is much more generous than the two points available under v4. Unfortunately, the only way to confirm your project’s performance is to enter your waste data into the Arc platform.

MRc1: Purchasing

The v4.1 credit combines several v4 purchasing credits (ongoing, lamps, and facility maintenance and renovation) into a single credit. The thresholds for compliance have changed, with ongoing consumables and food thresholds lowered, and the electronic equipment threshold increased. The average mercury limit for lamps has been reduced from 70 picograms per lumen-hour to 25. The sustainability criteria for some products have been supplemented and modified as well. We recommend reviewing the point allocations and compliance thresholds to determine whether v4 or v4.1 is a better fit for your project.

EQp1: Minimum Indoor Air Quality

This prerequisite is largely unchanged. However, v4.1 gives teams the option to use a calculation provided in the O+M Guide to determine the minimum amount of outdoor air that must be supplied (in place of using the Ventilation Rate Procedure outlined in ASHRAE Standard 62.1). This added flexibility may prompt some projects to use v4.1.

EQp2: Environmental Tobacco Smoke Control

The exterior signage requirement has been removed from v4.1. Instead, teams must have strategies in place to communicate the no-smoking policy to building users (which still could include signage). Other forms of communication could be including the policy in rental agreements, tenant guidelines, or online tenant or resident portals. Periodic email or newsletter reminders may work for your project. Some projects may appreciate the flexibility offered by v4.1. Others may prefer the more familiar v4 version, especially if investments have already been made to procure and install signage that complies with v4 requirements.

EQp3: Green Cleaning Policy

The updates to this prerequisite are minor and focused on the certified cleaning service option. The majority of projects meet this prerequisite by developing a green cleaning policy, rather than using a certified cleaning service—so most teams won’t find benefit in changing to v4.1.

Better to Avoid

For this set of credits, upgrading is simply not worth it. They’re either more difficult to achieve or worth fewer points (or both).

SSc1: Rainwater management

This credit has seen only minor edits for clarification in its v4.1 form, but is now worth just one point instead of three points. This means you can achieve the same environmental benefits and more LEED points under v4.

SSc2: Heat Island Reduction

A few adjustments to this credit are worth calling out for consideration. First, under-cover parking no longer contributes to credit achievement in v4.1. Second, if your project meets the requirements of Option 3: Roof and Nonroof, you’re eligible for only one point under v4.1 (rather than two points under v4). 

EQp4: Indoor Environmental Quality Performance

This new prerequisite doesn’t clearly map back to the v4 rating system and the requirements for completing both air quality testing and an occupant survey are much more onerous than any one EQ credit under v4. If your project is resistant to performing either of those activities, you’ll want to seriously consider whether v4.1 will work for you.

EQc1: Green Cleaning

This credit combines four individual v4 credits (custodial effectiveness audit, entryway systems, powered janitorial equipment, and cleaning products and materials) into four options under one mega-credit. However, you can only earn up to one point under v4.1, rather than up to four points if you were to pursue each of the options as their own individual credits under v4. Consider how these four points contribute to your overall certification strategy when you’re weighing the opportunities and drawbacks of the two rating systems.

INc1: Innovation

The v4.1 Innovation credit has become harder to achieve and earns fewer points. Under v4.1 you can only earn one point (compared to five points in v4). Your options are limited to either pursuing an Innovation strategy or pursuing a Pilot Credit—Exemplary Performance has been eliminated in v4.1. You’re also required to have a LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) with the O+M specialty designation on your team. This is required regardless of which path you choose.

No (or minor) changes

The following v4.1 credits are either completely unchanged from v4 or received only minor adjustments. In either case, the two versions are extremely similar and won’t tip the scale in either direction.

SSc3: Light Pollution Reduction

This credit is unchanged from v4.

EAp1: Energy Efficiency Best Management Practices

Very minor edits to the prerequisite language have been made to improve the applicability for O+M Interiors projects. The Interiors adaptation is new under LEED v4.1 and can be applied to existing interior spaces within a portion of an existing building. Otherwise, this prerequisite is unchanged from v4. 

EAp2: Fundamental Refrigerant Management

This credit is unchanged from v4.

EAc1: Enhanced Refrigerant Management

This credit is unchanged from v4.

MRp2: Facility maintenance and renovations policy

With only a minor update to the v4.1 policy, teams should feel equally comfortable with either version of this prerequisite. The v4.1 policy must require that all FMR waste is handled, stored, and sorted separately from ongoing waste. This is meant to set up v4.1 projects to accurately report waste data on the Arc platform. 

EQc2: Integrated pest management

Only minor edits for clarification have been made to this credit.

Date updated: 
Monday, March 7, 2022

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March 14, 2022 - 2:50 pm

Hi Elaine - newer isn't always better. I believe there's value in understanding the differences between v4 and v4.1, and this post is meant to succintly summarize those differences so that teams can understand the potential impact to their projects. This is particularly useful for teams that bought into v4 and are trying to understand what switching to v4.1 would mean for them. And to your comment about design teams - this post is focused on existing buildings. Operational teams have different opportunities and constraints than design teams that are worth recognizing.

March 8, 2022 - 2:55 pm

Committ to v4.1 for LEED O+M. This shouldn't be assessed on a credit by credit basis, the way point allocations work for this rating system are based on Energy, Water, and Waste Performance first.

Project teams should ask themselves:

What are my current HVAC, Plumbing, and Lighting Systems, and system settings?

Do we have record of them? Are they low flow, or efficient, do those need to be upgraded to improve performance?

Do I have 12 months of preliminary data to add to ARCskoru in order to generate a score, or will I need to collect monthly data?

How should we address energy or water performance, if it is under prerequisite requirements or beneath owner targets?

Second the development of Energy Best Management Practices including a CFR, O+M, Systems Manual, and ASHRAE LEVEL 1 audit, plus energy analysis/utility bill analyis. Thirdly ensuring systems are meeting minumum air, and verifying system through TAB aligns to confirm it meets original design or if there are gaps between original design and minimum air requirements.

Prerequsite policies to not require performance tracking, and only require that policies are implemented/developed. Ownership should not look at policies with the mind set of can we implement now, but can work towards achieving these goals? It they can achieve them now, move forward with associated credits that require tracking of policies, and if the thresholds are unachievable implement policy and being tracking but do not submit tracking paperwork for LEED credit.

Any additional credits outside of the performance tracking can be seen as additive or can be used if performance tracking is only meeting minimum requirements but not enough to certify the project under silver or better.

Making teams use LEED v4 EBOM will surely have them developing a LEED allergy due to all the paperwork involved.

The LEED v4.1 O+M streamlines documentation, and makes it less time consuming. In addition you no longer have to struggle with crumby v4 forms with the archaic adobe plug in, all v4.1 forms are embedded in HTML, and don't require accessing the v4.1 sample forms to complete as it is all in the LEEDonline platform.

Ditch v4 and go v4.1.

March 8, 2022 - 1:58 pm

If I hear one more "LEED Consultant" tell my design team, "Let's stick with 4.0 because it's easier," I'm going to scream. Why are we doing this? Not because it's easy, for certain. This is hard. Reducing carbon emissions to zero is REALLY hard. Is 'easy' even on the table? LEED 4.0 was ratified in 2012... TEN years ago. Your latest project gets certified under this in 2024, and you brag the project meets a building performance rating that's twelve years old. Yippee.... not.