Preview: The Cost of LEED v4 by BuildingGreen

I did some light reading over the holidays, pouring through all 100+ pages of BuildingGreen’s new “The Cost of LEED v4” report.

As GBA’s in-house LEED Green Associate exam prep course instructor, general green building nerd, and long-time BuildingGreen devotee, I couldn’t wait until after the break to lay my eyes on it. I also wanted to offer our GBA friends a quick report preview, since it’s only accessible by purchase.

All in all, I thought the report offered useful insights for anyone considering taking that leap into the new LEED rating system. Very soon, all projects will be required to pursue LEED v4, but many project teams are still fretting the new version’s changes and are trying to determine whether or not they should take a chance and lead market adoption, or wait until more feedback and case studies come out to help guide the process.

For people who are not yet totally familiar with changes in the LEED rating system, the “Cost of LEED v4” report offers a brief review of each credit under LEED v4, including notable changes from v2009, cost synergies with other credits, and specific details about costs when possible (a few cases were beyond the scope of the report). I also appreciated the notes in certain credits that spoke to either added value or cost savings down the road, despite higher upfront premiums in some cases.

Image credit: Blake Jackson, courtesy BuildingGreen

Image credit: Blake Jackson, courtesy BuildingGreen

While the report does include credit-by-credit cost breakdowns and strategies for achieving credits (which many project teams will look forward to reading), I found great value beyond those details as well. And, as GBA’s executive director, Aurora Sharrard, reminded me, costing LEED by credit isn’t necessarily the best way to assess overall green building costs. “A good green building approach doesn’t frame a project by chasing credits, points, or looking only at costs,” Aurora says. “Instead, we should approach every project with systems level thinking: if we want to pursue a credit because it makes sense for us, what factors do we need to take into consideration?” Aurora’s point is that while upfront costs are certainly a factor in decision-making, they certainly aren’t the only consideration – and this report does include language to support that more integrative approach.


Likely the most exciting part of the report comes at the end, where BuildingGreen provides a case study comparing the cost differences between LEED 2009 and v4, outlining what it would take to get a project certified as LEED Gold under the older system certified at the same level under the newer system. As an employee who works in a LEED Platinum office space (check us out by visiting the virtual GBA Office Tour!), I have often thought about what certification level our office space would achieve under a newer LEED system, knowing what I do about the credit changes. Not surprisingly, the case study revealed that many credits would carry no added cost, while some carry a significant added cost (spoiler alert: energy is a big one).

As building owners and project teams try to weigh the cost and value of LEED v4 (just as they’ve done with older versions of LEED and green buildings in general for decades), this report serves as a good preview of what they can expect. Oh, and for those of you who need last-minute GBCI continuing education units, this report also comes with a generous handful of CEUs.

*Want to get your hands on this report and read through the whole thing? BuildingGreen has generously offered all GBA friends a 20% discount on the report. Click here to find the full report. Follow this link to get your GBA discount.

*GBA’s LEED Green Associate exam prep course focuses specifically on LEED v4. If you want to take the exam or if you want a really indepth update on the new rating system, check out our next course on January 21, presented in partnership with the Master Builders’ Association.


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