Green Badger’s LEED v4.1 Update Review – Low Emitting Materials

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This is part four in Green Badger’s series of deep dives into the changes for LEED v4.1 and how they may affect project teams moving forward. For more resources, visit the other posts in our series bellow:

Part One: Introducing the LEED v4.1 Update

Part Two: Green Bader’s LEED v4.1 Update Review – Environmental Product Declarations, Option 1

Part Three: Sourcing of Raw Materials and Material Ingredient Reporting


A couple of notes to start:
  1. The following information contains Green Badger’ opinions and interpretations
  2. If you haven’t looked through the v4.1 beta guide from USGBC – download it now! That’s where the real meat and potatoes of the change details are actually listed.
  3. As always with USGBC, these may change at any time as v4.1 goes through the pilot.

For all you deviants who enjoyed huffing glue back in high school, you may not want to read on, because we are focused on low-emitting materials.

There’s lots of categories, and for the most part, the changes for v4.1 look to make this credit SUBSTANTIALLY more achievable. So much so, it had to be typed in all caps AND bold AND italics! You now have an actual real opportunity to earn 2 or dare I say, 3 points here! Let’s find out how!


Low Emitting Materials

What’s gone?

Gone are project types and furniture selections! No more trying to figure out if you had to work between 5, 6 or 7 categories for your project. No more arguing if furniture is part of your scope or not.

Gone is the ridiculous Low-Emitting Calculator! Only because USGBC has taken 6 months since the release of v4.1 and still not issued any new calculators. For the time being, you have to use your own (or a certain Badger may export a certain calculator and save the headache for you). USGBC has said a new version may be available end of summer, but they said that about spring, and others have said nothing will come out until the pilot is officially balloted so…..

Gone are the absolute compliance thresholds! In 4.0, you had to meet 90% emissions compliance for adhesives&sealants, paints&coatings, and furniture, while maintaining 100% compliance for every other category. Those are gone – replaced with more achievable 75% – 90%  compliance options (based on either cost, volume or square footage) depending on the product category.

Gone are exterior applied products! Cause who spends time outside anyway? Just worry about what’s inside the envelope for v4.1.

So How Do You Actually Earn the Points?

So glad you asked! Badgers have excellent hearing you know.  Here’s how you earn the points. Similar to v4.0, you still need to comply with at least two categories, but it’s all downhill from there:

  • Comply with 2 categories – 1 point
  • 3 categories –  2 points
  • 4 categories –  3 points,
  • 5 categories – 3 points plus bonus point! (exemplary performance)
  • Exemplary performance option 2 (for a bonus point), 90% threshold in at least 3 product categories

You may say, wow, that seems slightly better than v4, but what the heck? You still need 4 categories out of 5 to earn 3 points! Here’s another change – there’s more categories!

That’s right – the v4.0 category of Ceilings, Walls and Thermal Insulation has been broken into three separate categories (wait for it), 1) Ceilings, 2) Walls and 3) Insulation

Now we’ve got a total of 8 categories, of which you can get points by complying with 2, 3 or 4 of. Sound good?

But that’s not all! As mentioned, the thresholds for compliance are also lower. Take a look:

  • Paints/Coatings – 75% emissions by volume OR surface area, 100% VOC
  • Adhesives/Sealants – 75% emissions by volume OR surface area, 100% VOC
  • Flooring – 90% by cost or surface area meet emissions OR inherently non-emitting OR salvaged/reused
  • Wall Panels – 75% by cost or surface area meet emissions OR inherently non-emitting OR salvaged/reused
  • Ceilings – 90% by cost or surface area meet emissions OR inherently non-emitting OR salvaged/reused
  • Insulation – 75% by cost or surface area must meet emissions Furniture – 75% by cost meet emissions OR inherently non-emitting OR salvaged/reused
  • Composite Wood – 75% by cost or surface area, meets the Formaldehyde emissions evaluation OR salvaged and reused materials criteria.

Paints/Coatings, Sealant/Adhesives, and Furniture has dropped from 90% emissions compliance to 75%, while Flooring and Ceilings dropped from 100% to 90%, and Walls, Insulation and Composite wood go from 100% to 75%.

Standards have been updated:

New for v4.1 are updated emissions standards. Products now need to meet the California Department of Public Health Standard Method v1.2 – 2017, rather than the v1.1 – 2010 version. Since most testing certificates expire annually, this may not cause much of an issue besides tracking down updated information. However, the Badger sees an awful lot of lab testing results, which are not updated annually, and it will be interesting to see if manufacturers run out and re-test everything.

VOC standards have been updated as well. For Paints/Coatings, the SCAQMD Rule 1113 now uses the February 5, 2016 updated standards, and Adhesives/Sealants uses SCAQMD Rule 1168 updated October 6, 2017.

Composite wood must meet EPA TSCA Title VI or California Air Resources Board (CARB) ATCM for formaldehyde requirements for ultra-low-emitting formaldehyde (ULEF) resins or no added formaldehyde (NAF).

Structural composite wood has its own host of standards that complement this, and vary depend on product type.


Badger Summary:

Low Emitting Materials seems infinitely more achievable – more categories are available, less are needed for points, and thresholds are reduced. There still seems to be a lot of products out there that don’t have emissions testing, and more complicated projects will likely run into some of the same issues they had in v4.0.

There still seems to be a lot of products out there that don’t have emissions testing, and more complicated projects will likely run into some of the same issues they had in v4.0.

If the Badger was building a new den and going for points here, I’d shoot for Paints, Flooring, and Insulation – take my 2 points, and perhaps get the exemplary performance based on 90% compliance and not worry about it too much. Teams really looking for 3-4 points here will dive deeper on walls and ceilings. The other categories are achievable, but this Badger is worn out – if I can document this credit with a paint and flooring submittal and insulation (which only likely has a handful of products) vs going through every piece of furniture, 2 dozen sealant/adhesives and the like, that’s what I’m doing.

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