Leed V4: The Old, the New, and the Reinvented: What New Regulations Will Mean for Insulation Users and Manufacturers

March 1, 2014

The U.S. Green Building
Council (USGBC) unveiled the latest version of its Leadership in
Energy and
Environmental Design (LEED) program—LEED v4—at the
Greenbuild International
Conference and Expo in Philadelphia last November. The latest
version, classified
as a “quantum leap for LEED” by the USGBC, builds on the foundations
of the
previous version, LEED 2009, while incorporating new types of
product selection criteria, impact categories, and credit-earning

with previous versions of LEED, LEED v4 includes prerequisites that
must be
satisfied to earn credit, as well as optional credit requirements.
there are some notable differences in approach as well as the
addition of new
sustainability criteria. This article describes how and where the
selection and
use of insulation applies to LEED credits, with a specific focus on
Materials and Resources section, and changes to Indoor Environmental
criteria. Manufacturers of insulation as well as architects,
contractors, specifiers, and other users will continue to leverage
the benefits
of steps taken to earn LEED credits under the previous standard,
while also
accessing new credit opportunities with the strategic selection of

The 40,000 Foot View of

In some ways, LEED v4 is
more complex than former versions, as it tries to evaluate and
measure the
synergistic benefits of designing, building, managing, and operating
sustainable buildings. In many cases, credits are no longer offered
for simply
meeting a particular criterion, but are now awarded based on a
calculation of
how meeting a given criterion impacts the end result. The new
standard also
includes credits for new sustainability criteria that must be third-
validated or certified.

There are 6 areas where thermal insulation on mechanical
systems can apply toward earning credits in LEED v4:

  1. Energy

  2. Product

  3. Raw materials

  4. Material

  5. Indoor air

  6. Acoustic

some cases, credits are earned simply by selecting insulation that
meets a
given criterion. In others, credits are based on the impact
insulation has on
the end result.

Energy Efficiency

was originally created with the intention of revolutionizing how we
construct, and operate buildings. It focuses on many aspects of
including water use and conservation, indoor environments that
support human
health, operation and management of buildings in environmentally
friendly ways,
and environmentally conscientious use and reuse of materials, among
factors. Above all, however, LEED has focused on energy efficiency.
From this
standpoint, insulation can play an enormous role in helping LEED-
buildings achieve their desired project status. Most types of
insulation are
explicitly designed to increase energy efficiency. Unlike some other
categories, insulation is relevant to every type of building
striving to earn
energy credits for LEED certification.

Energy and Atmosphere

Minimum energy
performance prerequisites in LEED call for measurable reductions in
consumption in a standard building. Energy simulation calls for
evaluation of
chosen insulation methods used in the building. By increasing energy
efficiency, insulation helps deliver buildings that operate with
comfort and efficiency—both significant goals of LEED.

the use of insulation has implications for other environmental
attributes as
well, and insulation brands that support sustainability will pull
ahead of
others in terms of helping project teams earn LEED credits.

Product Transparency

Materials and Resources section of LEED v4 calls for the efficient
use of
resources and selection of materials that support both human health
sustainability. New to this latest version of LEED is the potential
to earn
credits based on selection of building materials from manufacturers
that strive
to bring a level of transparency to their environmental impact.
Project teams
earn credits for selecting products that have received a verified
environmental product declaration (EPD) or, alternatively, those
that have been
shown to meet environmental impact criteria.

EPD (worth 1 credit) calls for the building to “use at least 20
permanently installed products sourced from at least 5 different
that meet 1 of the disclosure criteria.”

alternative option is to ensure that 50% of permanently installed
materials of
a project meet a set of performance criteria outlined for reduced
warming, depletion of ozone, acidification of land and water
eutrophication, and formation of tropospheric ozone.

both instances, third-party validation and/or certification offers
manufacturers and users the most effective, streamlined way to
products that meet these criteria.

EPD is a comprehensive report that documents the ways in which a
impacts the environment in 6 key areas. Independent program
operators offer
certification of EPDs, which must comply with product category rules
that have
been established using a defined process. These types of EPDs meet
specifications outlined in LEED and offer clear and definitive
compliance for a
credit’s criteria.

Raw Materials Sourcing

LEED has long called for
the specification of products that are sustainably sourced. The
difference in
LEED v4 is that the collection of attributes has been centralized
into a single
prerequisite calling for the achievement of multiple single-
attribute criteria.
Through this prerequisite, it is possible to earn a total of 2
points for a
project. Required attributes include:

  • Materials reuse, which calls for salvaged,
    refurbished, or reused

  • Wood products that are sourced sustainably
    and are certified by
    the Forest Stewardship Council or a USGBC equivalent

  • Bio-based materials tested using ASTM Test
    Method D6866

  • Recycled content

Insulation bearing third-party claim validation marks can
be easily identified as meeting the specified attributes. Companies
may also
have their corporate sustainability reports third-party audited and
to document their compliance.

Material Ingredients

In the new version of
LEED, credit is also given for material ingredient disclosure. The
intent is to
evaluate not only the impact of products on and in the building, but
demonstrate a chemical inventory to at least 0.1% (1000 ppm).

of chemical content, health product declarations, and cradle-to-
certifications ask manufacturers to offer additional transparency
regarding the
content inventory of their products. Insulation manufacturers have
an option to
seek third-party evaluations to verify chemical content. Project
teams would
need to research availability and select 20 permanently installed
offering this content inventory in order to earn this new credit.

Indoor Air Quality

Indoor air quality,
addressed in the Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) section of the
has been included in LEED since v2.2. Previous versions awarded
credits for the
selection of low-emitting products in specified product categories.
teams achieved this credit by selecting products bearing trusted
certifications that indicated compliance. However, there is a way in
for some components of product categories to contribute toward
earning credit
with a complex compliance methodology involving calculations of the
amounts of
low-emitting materials by volume, surface area, or
cost—depending on the
product type—and then determining the percentage of total
product compliance in
a certain space.

is required to be calculated by surface area compliance with
Department of Public Health Standard Method v1.1. Certain parties
expressed concern that the new complexity may drive teams away from
trying to
obtain this credit, and this could negatively impact IEQ in indoor
environments. It is advisable for teams to continue to select
products with
trusted third-party certifications that they have used in the past.
Additionally, there are extra points available in this version of
the rating
system for indoor air testing of certain chemical levels. If the air
meets the specified criteria, the building is given double the
credits that
would have been received for simply flushing out air. By selecting
and using
certified low-emitting products, including doors and hardware,
product teams
can better ensure that required indoor air quality clearance testing
will yield
acceptable results.

Acoustic Performance

Acoustic performance is a
new credit opportunity available to all building types (except
schools, where
it had previously been incorporated into the standard). The intent
of this
requirement is to produce workplace and other environments conducive
occupant productivity and comfort.

The use of both mechanical
and thermal insulation
can support efforts to earn this credit by reducing HVAC background
noise and
reducing sound transmission. Calculations are required to earn this


With its extensive
language, credit options, multi-part criteria, and new formulas,
demands more specific, measurable sustainability attributes from
manufacturers regarding their products’ impact on the environment.

and project teams, including specifiers, architects, designers, and
need not be overwhelmed with the new criteria, however. The simplest
way to
maximize credit-earning potential is to select products that have
validated and certified by trusted third parties. The selection of
products will in some cases earn a credit and in others simply help
that when calculations are completed, sustainable products will
contribute to a
positive result.

manufacturers striving to differentiate their products and make them
ready for LEED, it may be worthwhile to investigate the options for
earning an
EPD, obtaining low-emitting certification, and/or pursuing an
Claims Validation through a trusted third party. There are scores of
benefits to earning these certifications, including sending a clear
message to
purchasers, specifiers, and end users about the manufacturer’s
commitment to
sustainability. In many cases, the process of earning certification
can also
provide in-depth operational data that highlight cost savings and
other areas
for improvement that can save the company precious time, money, and

It is
useful to consider the pursuit of sustainability as a journey as
opposed to a
single action. The important thing is to continue to make strides,
little by
little—not only to comply with LEED, but to protect resources
and the planet
for generations to come.

The opinions expressed in this article are the
author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of UL
Environment or the
National Insulation Association.


For more information on EPDs, please visit www.ul.com/epd.

To source certified materials for your next green
building project, visit www.ul.com/spg, where you can search by
product credit, manufacturer, or product type.