Year constructed: The commercial building stock is middle-aged, and newer buildings are larger than older ones
Commercial buildings remain in use for many decades. Although about 12% of commercial buildings (comprising 14% of commercial floorspace) were built since 2003, the commercial building stock is still fairly old, with about half of all buildings constructed before 1980; the median age of buildings in 2012 was 32 years (Detailed Table B2). However, in the existing building stock, the newest buildings outnumber the oldest; there are more buildings built in the 2000s than buildings built prior to 1946.
Newer buildings tend to be larger than older buildings. The average building size for those constructed before 1960 is 12,000 square feet; buildings constructed between 1960 and 1999 average 16,300 square feet; and buildings constructed in the 2000s average 19,000 square feet. The differences between these average building sizes are statistically significant2 .
What is contributing to this increase in the size of new buildings? Function and population shift are the two apparent main drivers; a few building types have increased in average size over the years as consumers’ needs and wants have changed, and building sizes are larger in the regions that have also experienced the most growth in number of buildings, as discussed in the Census region and division section below.
Four building types showed a statistically significant increase in building size when comparing buildings constructed before 1960 to those constructed after 1999:
- Health care buildings are getting larger, most likely to meet the needs of a population whose average life expectancy continues to increase.
- The size of lodging buildings increases substantially across vintages. Air travel became more affordable and accessible after 1978 when the industry was deregulated, and it follows that the growing numbers of both leisure and business travelers led to the construction of larger hotels.
- Retail (other than shopping mall) buildings–a subset of the mercantile category, which includes malls–have become larger, likely a result of the trend towards big box stores.
- Religious worship buildings are also larger, possibly an effect of megachurches, which have seen a rise in popularity in the United States in the past two decades.
Census region and division (see map): The South has the most commercial buildings, but the Northeast has the largest commercial buildings
The South Census region, the most populous of the four Census regions, has the largest pe rcentage of commercial buildings and commercial floorspace, with about 40% of both total buildings and floorspace. The Midwest and West regions each account for more than one-fifth of commercial buildings and floorspace. The Northeast has the fewest number of buildings, about one-third the number in the South.
However, when comparing the regional breakout by building vintage or year constructed, the patterns vary. Older vintages are more evenly distributed across the regions, whereas in the newer buildings, the South contains a slightly disproportionate share compared to the population (the South comprises 37% of the population but 46% of new buildings). Almost half of all commercial buildings constructed since the year 2000 were built in the South.
The large share of new buildings constructed in the South, coupled with the fact that average building sizes are increasing there (and in the Midwest and West), helps to explain the increase in size for the vintage 2000-2012 buildings. In Figure 8, the change in size between the oldest and the newest building categories is statistically significant in all regions except for the Northeast, where the difference is not statistically significant.
Commercial buildings in the Northeast region are the largest buildings overall. Cities in the Northeast are well established and have had very large buildings in place for many years; the median age for buildings in the Northeast is 46 years, in contrast to 29 years for those in South. In the Northeast, buildings are, on average, 4,000 to 5,000 square feet larger than buildings in the other regions. The Northeast region includes the Middle Atlantic division (New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey), where buildings average 22,300 square feet. The Middle Atlantic contains only 9% of all commercial buildings but 19% of the total office floorspace and 19% of all the total health care floorspace. (Detailed Tables B4 and B5).
Principal building activities: The most prevalent building types account for the majority of the total buildings and floorspace, while the building types with the largest average buildings are less common in the building stock
The commercial building sector is extremely diverse. The 2012 survey identified more than 100 subcategories of building activity, which are aggregated into the 14 principal building activities shown in the Detailed Tables and in the figures below. CBECS includes buildings as small and singular in activity as a freestanding bank or fast food restaurant, to buildings as large and complex as an office building with hundreds of tenants or a major airport terminal. CBECS also includes vacant buildings; some vacant buildings use energy, either for maintenance purposes or because a small amount of space is still used in the building.
Among the general building activities, lodging, education, and health care are the largest buildings, on average. The health care category's average is greatly affected by the size of inpatient health care buildings (i.e., hospitals), which have an average size of 247,800 square feet per building, compared to outpatient health care buildings, which have an average size of 12,100 square feet.
Since 2003, about half of the principal building activities have increased their numbers in the building stock. The greatest growth was in vacant buildings and other types of buildings, which include buildings such as airplane hangars, laboratories, and data centers. Warehouses, food service buildings, public assembly buildings, and office buildings also increased between 2003 and 2012, while food sales buildings (e.g., grocery and convenience stores) showed a decrease. Mercantile buildings (retail and malls) also showed a decrease3 , although it is not statistically significant.
Additional characteristics information by building type can be found in DetailedTables B11 through B14.