How do Vinyl Windows Fit into LEED V.4?

Jane Rohde - May 2013

In using green building rating systems, whether it is LEED® v.4 or the newly updated Green Globes for New Construction, it is important to understand that products themselves are not rated by these systems.  The criteria for green building rating systems is based on providing a designed building system solution that meets a certain sustainable intent.  Therefore, each vinyl product category can be evaluated as potentially contributing to a building system, such as the building envelope, site infrastructure, and interior finish system.  The sustainable intents seeking to be met by a building system include energy and water savings, evaluation of sites and infrastructure for sustainable placement and systems, adherence to indoor environmental quality strategies, environmental impacts of material and resource selections, and reduction of a building’s emissions and effluents.

Vinyl exterior windows are part of the envelope of a building, which is evaluated as a building system that directly impacts energy performance and infiltration.  The selection of a window profile combined with thermal breaks, types of glazing, and appropriate sealing are all key in creating an energy efficient building.  This would be considered a direct application of a product to a building system that supports a sustainable intent.  Indirectly, there are other systems being designed that are possible by the inclusion of window systems to obtain credits and meet the intent of sustainable credits, such as daylighting and views.

The following list outlines the applicable LEED v.4 credits that utilize windows as a part of a building system in a direct manner:

EA Prerequisite:  Fundamental Commissioning and Verification: Complete commissioning process activities for mechanical, electrical, plumbing and renewable energy systems and assemblies.  Commissioning is a requirement within the rating system for exterior building envelope; which means that the windows specified are part of that envelope, contributing toward the system that is evaluated and verified from an energy perspective.

MR Credit:  Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Environmental Product Declarations (EPD)

  • Option 1:  Completing an EPD (Type III would be worth more points) based upon life cycle criteria.  In an effort to provide transparency of product ingredients, Environmental Product Declarations have been deemed an appropriate vehicle for identifying the ingredients (feedstocks) used to manufacture a product.  However, only providing a list of the contents in a product without completing a comparison of products for their appropriate application does not necessarily result in the most sustainable choice.  Therefore, the completion of a Type III EPD that is based on ISO Standards 14040, 14044, 14025 and 21930 or EN 15804, utilizes additional criteria that evaluates durability and building service life, which are critical in making specification decisions regarding products.  EPDs use recognized Product Category Rules so that products are evaluated based on the same criteria.  There are two classifications of Type III EPDs:  Industry Wide EPDs, which are generic to a product type, and Product Specific Declarations, which are manufacturer-specific for a family of products.  Type III EPDs require conformance to the ISO Standards as well as minimally include cradle to gate scope.
  • Option 2:  Multi-attribute Optimization is very weak, because it doesn’t have consistent weighing of impacts for alternative to using USGBC approved program that includes certifications that verify impact reduction below industry average in three of 6 life cycle impacts.  However, the Extended Producer Responsibility is something that could be reviewed and completed.   Regardless of either alternative within Option 2, there is a source location criteria that must be met.  This results in a site and project specific credit based upon the manufacturing location as it relates to the project site.

MR Credit:  Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Sourcing of Raw Materials.  The intent is to reward project teams for selecting products verified to have been extracted or sourced in a responsible manner.

  • Option 1:  Complete a public report from raw material suppliers.  Specific criteria has to be met, but it is fairly vague in terms of compliance requirements for the report.   Additional criteria requires 3rd party verified corporate sustainability reports (CSR) with frameworks provided as part of requirements.  For windows, this would require raw materials for all components.
  • Option 2:  Addresses Leadership Extraction Practices as a single attribute requirement that also has a source location criteria that must be met.  This results in a site and project specific credit based upon the manufacturing location as it relates to the project site.

MR Credit:  Building Product Disclosure and Optimization – Material Ingredients is intended to encourage the use of products and materials for which life cycle information is available and to reward project teams for selecting products with inventoried chemical ingredients to minimize the use and generation of harmful substances.

  • Option 1:  Chemical inventory of a minimum of 20 permanently installed products are required for compliance.  Manufacturer Inventory (1000 ppm) would have to publish a complete list of ingredients identified by name and Chemical Abstract Service Registration Number (CASRN).  Provides an out for proprietary ingredients, but still have to disclose role, mount and associated hazards.
    • Other Compliance Paths within Option 1:  Health Product Declaration (HPD), which is has a template available on-line for utilization.  However, the HPD is depending upon designers to fully understand chemistry and compounds, and when something is a risk/hazard and/or needs to be labeled based upon a threshold.  From a manufacturing side, there is a dedicated group working on a Product Transparency Declaration (PTD) that can assist specifiers to better understand risk and product information to make a better educated decisions. Cradle to Cradle is listed as an acceptable alternative certification, but it starts with de-selection criteria and doesn’t evaluate products from a life cycle or identified risk based upon threshold basis.  The last is the catch-all grouping of “USGBC approved programs” that does not include any specific criteria.  The goal would be for the PTD to be available as a USGBC approved program, when vetting is completed.
    • Option 2:  Green Screen.  The Green Screen tool is still in draft format, but in early evaluation of the tool, it would be worth window manufacturers reviewing to see how vinyl windows fare using the tool.  Additional credit is provided for source location, but is not a must for the compliance path for Option 2.

The following list outlines the applicable LEED v.4 credits that utilize windows as a part of a building system in an indirect manner:

EA Credit:  Optimize Energy Performance:  Option 2:  Prescriptive Compliance utilizing Advanced Energy Design Guide addresses interior lighting, including daylighting.  In completing energy performance assessments for the design of a building, the energy used for interior lighting has to be evaluated, taking into consideration the amount of daylight.  This is indirectly applicable to the types of windows that are utilized that provide daylight within a space.

MR Credit:  Building Life-Cycle Impact Reduction
Healthcare Only:  For all options in this credit, building materials demolished to create courtyards to increase daylighting may be counted as retained in calculations, provided the new courtyards meet the requirements of EQ Credits Daylight and Quality Views.  Therefore the use of windows and exterior doors into a courtyard contributes positively to the amount of daylight within a healthcare setting.

MR Credit:  Construction and Demolition Waste Management:  The intent is to reduce construction and demolition waste disposal in landfills and incineration facilities by recovering, reusing, and recycling materials.  Indirectly, if window products or components are recyclable, this would be an added benefit toward future work and construction waste management.  This is also a good part of a manufacturer’s sustainable story, demonstrating how the future disposal phase of a product has been evaluated through a product’s life cycle.

EQ Prerequisite:  Minimum Indoor Air Quality Performance Requirements & Enhanced Indoor Air Quality Strategies would be indirect applications for windows as potential providers of natural ventilation, which is part of both of these credits.  The intent is to contribute to the comfort and well-being of building occupants by establishing minimum standards for indoor air quality (IAQ) and improving IAQ, while also providing occupants with personal control of space.  The use of natural ventilation is highly reliant on climate, as well as occupancy type and humidity control.

EQ Credit:  Low-Emitting Interiors intended to reduce concentrations of chemical contaminants that can damage air quality, human health, productivity, and the environment.   This credit covers VOCs (adhesives and sealants).  As this credit is applicable to fenestration systems for the exterior of buildings, all windows are sealed for infiltration and evaluated for the provision of weather stripping.  Although these products are often manufactured by a different company, they are part of the successful installation of windows.  So this EQ Credit indirectly applies to windows as a part of an overall exterior envelope.

EQ Credit:  Daylight intended to connect building occupants with the outdoors, reinforce circadian rhythms, while reducing the use of electrical lighting by introducing daylight into the space.  Windows, doors and skylights are the primary source for allowing daylight into spaces, so indirectly as part of the envelope, windows, doors and skylights provide a means to fulfill the intent of the credit for access to daylight.

EQ Credit:  Quality Views intended to give building occupants a connection to the natural outdoor environment by providing quality views.  Similar to accessing daylight, quality views are essentially accessed through windows and doors; whereas the actual view is dictated by the overall exterior design; i.e. adjacent courtyard, attractive buildings, garden spaces, park settings, and green roof strategies.  The terminology of “quality” is not completely defined, but the intention is to provide access to nature and interesting surroundings versus a blank brick wall.


LEED v.4 provides opportunities for the utilization of vinyl windows that both directly and indirectly support building systems that achieve credits throughout the green building rating system.  The examples provided above are referenced to provide a framework for strategic thinking - to see how a manufacturer’s products can be used to support sustainability, while providing marketing and educational outreach opportunities for manufacturer representatives and sales forces.