LEED v4 Penalizes Some ENERGY STAR Scores, Rewards Others

When LEED v4 takes effect on November 1, 2016, the minimum ENERGY STAR score for eligible buildings to fulfill the Energy + Atmosphere prerequisite for Minimum Energy Performance under LEED O+M: EB will increase from 69 to 75. This affects all applications, but has particular significance for buildings with an existing LEED O+M: EB certification. While the recertification process allows you to change or update the credits pursued, you must continue to meet all of the prerequisites. If your building will not achieve a minimum ENERGY STAR score of 75, it will not be eligible to pursue LEED O+M: EB certification under v4. This change reflects the goal for LEED criteria to reward higher levels of energy efficiency by eliminating a “loophole” that allowed non-ENERGY STAR certified buildings to achieve LEED certification.

Whether your building is within or outside of this range, there are several strategic decisions you can make in response to the transition. Below we have summarized options to consider for a variety of scenarios. Because of the complexities of operating a building and the trade-offs that must be weighed when pursuing LEED O+M: EB certification, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you need guidance, GHT’s Building Energy Services team can provide a customized approach.

Scenario 1: Your building doesn’t have an ENERGY STAR score or it is lower than 69

Verify that you have entered utility data correctly and that it accurately reflects your building’s usage. One area that can be easily checked is verifying that the building areas entered into ENERGY STAR reflect the building Gross Floor Area and not the rentable area.

If you are proven to be below the threshold, there are strategies to improve your score, but they may take time to implement and show results in the form of lowered utility bills. GHT can assist by performing energy audits or studies to help you to develop an energy improvement plan, and recommend an implementation approach to improve your building’s performance.

Scenario 2: Your building is unlikely to meet the minimum ENERGY STAR score of 75 required by LEED v4

Option 1: Register for O+M: EB certification under LEED 2009 on or before October 31, 2016 to take advantage of the lower threshold. For recertification applications, you must be within the eligibility window of one to five years since your last certification. If your building is on the border of a 75 and you are planning building enhancements that may increase your score, you can move up to v4 without penalties or fees before submitting your application.

Option 2: If you will not be ready or eligible to register prior to the LEED 2009 deadline, begin planning energy efficiency projects now to meet v4 requirements. Prepare for a period of 12 to 18 months to design, implement, and realize utility data changes from upgrades that will support a higher ENERGY STAR score. Not confident that your building’s score will improve to 75 even with upgrades? It may still be advantageous to proceed. LEED allows up to five years after registration to submit your final application, providing ample time to realize performance improvements.

Scenario 3:  Your building has or will likely have an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or higher

In this case, you have the most flexibility. For certain scores, registering under LEED 2009 may still provide an advantage. Below we provide more details on how to select the version that will most benefit your building.

Changes to Points Earned for Higher ENERGY STAR Scores

The number of points that can be earned for higher ENERGY STAR scores in the Energy + Atmosphere: Optimize Energy Performance credit (EA Credit 1.1 in LEED 2009) will change in LEED v4 to reflect the emphasis on rewarding buildings that have higher energy performance:

  • Scores from 76 – 85 earn fewer points in LEED v4
  • Scores from 88 – 95 earn more points in LEED v4

The graphic below demonstrates the point differential. Note that a score of 75 only satisfies the Energy + Atmosphere prerequisite for Minimum Energy Performance under LEED O+M: EB v4 as discussed above. Your building will not be eligible to earn the Optimize Energy Performance credit.


Recommended responses:

  • If your score is between 76 and 85, analyze the operational trade-offs involved in attaining a desired LEED certification level with fewer points in energy efficiency in v4. If you meet your LEED certification target with fewer points, it is not necessary that you register before the sunset date of October 31, 2016.  If you need the higher points from this credit to meet your certification goal, register before the deadline under LEED O+M: EB 2009
  • If your score is between 88 and 95, consider registering for O+M: EB certification under LEED v4 to earn extra points based on the building’s efficiency, which can support an increased certification level or allow you to delay pursuing other LEED credits

Keep in mind that this blog post focuses only on the energy-related aspects of pursuing LEED O+M: EB certification. The intention of LEED is to consider a building holistically, so work with your team to examine all of your operational practices and analyze the credits you are most likely to pursue prior to making a final decision on the right LEED version for your building.

GHT can support your pursuit of LEED and ENERGY STAR in each of these scenarios. Contact us if you need guidance on registration and application processes or MEP Design and Building Energy Services to maximize your building’s performance.


As Section Head of Building Energy Services in GHT’s Operations & Energy Services (OES) studio, Jeffrey Salay, PE, CEM, LEED AP leads the firm’s efforts to provide ENERGY STAR benchmarking services, conduct ASHRAE energy audits and other energy studies, and design energy efficiency upgrades.