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Buildings and Floorspace

Energy Consumption and Energy Sources

The Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS)



Trends in the Commercial Buildings Sector

Since 1978, the Energy Information Administration has collected basic statistical information from three of the major end-use sectors—commercial, residential, and industrial—via periodic energy consumption surveys. Each survey is a snapshot of how energy is used in the year of the survey; the series of surveys in each sector reveals the trends in energy use for the sector.


The Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) collects data from a sample of buildings representative of the commercial buildings sector in the United States. In 1999, the sector had more than 4.6 million buildings that comprised more than 67 billion square feet of floorspace. The CBECS covers 20 years and seven survey cycles and many trends that were previously statistically uncertain have been confirmed, for example:

The number of commercial buildings and the amount of floorspace increased from 1979 to 1992, while total energy consumption remained flat.

Electricity and natural gas consumption greatly exceeded other major sources from 1979 to 1995; and by 1986, the consumption of electricity exceeded natural gas.

Energy sources used for specific end uses changed over the period. For example, the use of electricity for space heating increased and use of fuel oil declined, while the use of natural gas and district heat remained constant.

The commercial sector consists of business establishments and other organizations that provide services. The sector includes service businesses (e.g., retail stores, hotels, restaurants), public and private schools, correctional institutions, and religious and fraternal organizations. Excluded from the sector are the goods-producing industries: manufacturing, agriculture, mining, forestry and fisheries, and construction.

Nearly all energy use in the commercial sector takes place in, or is associated with, the buildings that house commercial activities. The CBECS collects basic statistical information on energy consumption, energy expenditures, and energy-related characteristics of commercial buildings in the United States. The first survey was conducted in 1979; the seventh, and most recent, was conducted in 1999. From 1979 to 1986, the survey was known as the Nonresidential Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (NBECS).

The target population of CBECS consists of all commercial buildings in the United States with more than 1,000 square feet of floorspace. A commercial building defined by CBECS is an enclosed structure with more than 50% of its floorspace devoted to activities that are neither residential, industrial, nor agricultural.

The CBECS collects data from a sample of buildings selected to represent the entire commercial buildings population. Characteristics of the population are then estimated from information collected from the sample. These estimates of the true population values have sampling errors associated with them; therefore, each estimate should be thought of as an estimate with a range of uncertainty rather than a point estimate. Because of the uncertainties, differences in estimates across two or three survey cycles are often not statistically significant.

Links to articles that discuss these and other trends are in the column on the left. The “CBECS Home Page” link leads to electronic versions of data tables and reports for the 1992, 1995, and 1999 CBECS.


Specific questions may be directed to:

Alan Swenson

Release date: 01/12/2000


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