Rendering of Novel South Capitol Hill multifamily project pursuing LEED certification

The Many Paths of LEED V4 for Multifamily

When we talk about green building with those who don’t live and breathe it like we do, LEED is often the first certification program that comes up. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program began development in 1993 becoming one of the most widely used and recognized rating systems for green building today. 

LEED Logo

In this article, we’ll help you understand the basics of LEED and the different pathways for certification specifically for multifamily projects.

The Leaders Behind LEED

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) is the governing body that develops and interprets all of the official rules and regulations surrounding the LEED program. The Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) is responsible for implementing the USGBC’s framework by overseeing and managing the certification process.This means when a project team is working to certify their property, we, as the sustainability consultant, will be working directly with GBCI to accomplish their certification goal.

The Many Paths to LEED

Depending on project specifications, there are three directions a multifamily project can take to achieve LEED Certification — LEED NC, LEED Multifamily Midrise, or LEED Homes (Lowrise). These options can all be found under the LEED BD+C rating system.

LEED BD+C

LEED BD+C (Building Design and Construction) is the most inclusive and extensive rating system within the LEED program. It has been tailored to fit the following project types:

  • New Construction
  • Core and Shell
  • Schools
  • Retail
  • Healthcare
  • Data Centers
  • Hospitality
  • Warehouses & Distribution Centers
  • Homes
  • Multifamily Lowrise
  • Multifamily Midrise

Under V4, the Homes and Multifamily programs were officially moved under the umbrella of the BD+C rating system, but remain quite distinct from the other program pathways regarding the process of credit achievement, documentation, verification, and the relationships between the project team and GBCI. This section will focus upon the New Construction and Major Renovation project types.

LEED NC

New Construction & Major Renovation (LEED NC), is heavy on the documentation side of credit achievement. It has been developed to fit a variety of building types and is quite flexible – a true “one size fits all” rating system. However, being flexible and able to cater toward various property types also makes it a difficult rating system for some properties, as not all credits will be specifically tailored to your property type. 

Major Requirements

Usage of the following LEED NC requirements are two major items that project teams should take note of: a Commissioning Agent (CxA) to ensure that the Owners’ Project Requirements (OPR) are met during and after construction, as well as an Energy Model of the property that demonstrates a % energy reduction over ANSI/ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1–2010.

The Process

It is imperative that the LEED AP and sustainability consultants are on the scene as early in the process as possible– ideally during conceptual design. LEED NC grants a “free” credit for project teams that engage a LEED Accredited Professional in Building Design and Construction (AP BD+C) on the project team. The LEED AP provides guidance to the project team on credit documentation and handles all of the LEED Online work that is required for the project. Having a LEED AP in the loop early during design development can allow the project team to target credits that are most appropriate, get the documentation process started early, and iron out any inquires the project team may have that need to be addressed by GBCI. This will minimize unanticipated obstacles for the project team while helping to save on costs as changes in the beginning are much easier to make than further down the road. 

LEED Multifamily Midrise

LEED Multifamily Midrise was tailor made for multifamily projects 4 to 8 stories in height. The Midrise program mirrors the New Construction program in that the ASHRAE 90.1 2010 energy modeling is required and commissioning is required for central HVAC and water heating systems.

Major Requirements

A major difference between LEED NC and the Midrise and Homes programs are how they are managed. The Midrise and Homes programs utilize LEEDH Providers and LEEDH Green Raters to carry out a majority of the program administration and oversight. The Provider serves as the primary body on credit clarifications and quality assurance while the Green Rater’s focus is credit selection, on site verification of credits and documentation collection. The project team works directly with a LEEDH Provider and/or Green Rater to select credits and provide documentation. At the end of the project, the Provider will submit the project for certification to GBCI, who has the final review. While not required, it’s recommended to have a LEED AP on a Midrise or Lowrise project as noted above, this can afford the project a “free” credit.

The Process

Like LEED NC, documentation plays a major role, although performance testing a minimum of 10-20% of the residential units is required for the Midrise program. That percentage is based on a sampling protocol implemented by the Green Rater and/or HERS Rater on the project. Performance testing includes two of the tests required for the Homes program: HVAC system leakage testing and compartmentalization (blower door) but has the added commissioning of central systems. The Midrise program’s commercial energy modeling and commissioning paired with the LEED for Homes Provider performing the program administration blends methodologies from both the BD +C and the Homes program.

Diagram depicting the LEED Midrise Delivery Team relationship

LEED Homes (Lowrise)

LEED for Homes (Lowrise) was designed with single family homes in mind, however, it can be implemented by a multifamily project up to 5 stories in height that has individual unit HVAC and water heating and is at least 50% residential space.

Major Requirements

The lowrise program differs from the Midrise or BD + C program with the energy modeling and performance testing. LEED for Homes requires residential energy modeling via a HERS Rating Index. This addresses the multifamily unit energy usage and not the common areas or commercial spaces. This program also requires Energy Star V3.0 certification for the residential units. We could get into the Energy Star program but we’ll save that for another blog post.

The Process

Lastly, the Homes program requires performance testing on a minimum of 15-20% of the residential units. This number is based on a sampling protocol implemented by the Green Rater and/or HERS Rater on the project. Performance testing includes but is not limited to hvac system leakage testing, compartmentalization (blower door), ventilation systems, and room balancing. The performance testing requirements are more in depth than the Midrise program but the focus is on the residential units. No common area or commercial systems are required to be tested. 

Diagram depicting the LEED Homes (Lowrise) Delivery Team relationship

Registration and Certification Fees

How much does LEED Registration and Certification cost? It depends upon the following parameters: when the project is registered, the selected rating system and review pathway, how many buildings are in the project, the size of the project, and more. We are happy to help you choose a rating system that is best suited to your goals and your project’s details.

Choosing a Path

If you think choosing a multifamily LEED program is complicated, you’re not alone. There are many projects, especially in the Multifamily sector, that are eligible to pursue three different versions of LEED, based on their details. As many of you may have experience with LEED 2009 (V3), LEED V4 continues to lift many of the qualifying requirements from the NC program, so that residential projects 4 stories or higher are now able to select between potentially three rating systems. These systems all vary in price, rating details, and implementation – reach out to us for more information and guidance on which rating system may be most ideal for your team. 

Heads up — LEED V4.1 is on the horizon and will be combining the Multifamily Low and Midrise programs into one program when it is rolled out. Project teams that would like to pilot the V4.1 rating system are now being allowed to do so. 

How We Can Help

SEM has been an advocate for green building since we opened up shop in 2001. We are a proud USGBC member who stays active in the green building community – whether it’s a local chapter meeting or attending the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo. We have in-house LEED Accredited Professionals and LEEDH Green Raters to walk you through the program nuances and credit selection to ensure you’re on the best pathway for your project. Contact us today to evaluate your project.

Ready to get started?

We’re happy to help find the program that’s right for you!

Request a Free Solar Evaluation

Primary Solar Form 2019 - Placeholders

Let's Connect!

MES Primary Form