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Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS)

Select Results from the Energy Assessor Experiment in the 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey

CBECS 2012 - Release date: December 15, 2015

In 2010, the National Research Council published a report1 on how to improve the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)'s energy consumption surveys, including the Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS). Among the panel's recommendations was for EIA to test the feasibility of using energy auditors in tandem with, or instead of, trained survey interviewers for data collection. The panel posited that the data obtained in this experiment, even if small in scale, might help EIA to assess CBECS data quality, as well as to evaluate post data collection editing procedures and the regression model2 that determines whether a building needs to be sent to post-interview energy supplier follow-up.

In addition to the panel's suggestions for ways to use the energy audits to improve data collection, EIA also identified a number of areas where a comparison of CBECS and energy audit data is appropriate. By observing how energy professionals record building characteristics and systems, EIA may be able to improve survey questions and concepts in the next CBECS cycle. EIA also wanted to understand the process of incorporating an energy audit into future CBECS data collections, and what the additional time spent on the audit means for respondent burden.

Our goals for this project are both data driven and procedural. First, we ask what differences exist, both quantitative and qualitative, between data collected by a trained interviewer with a computerized survey instrument, and data collected by an energy professional with a standardized paper checklist. Second, we ask whether the addition of an energy audit is desirable or feasible for future rounds of CBECS data collection. This second question weighs the potential gains in data quality with the relative costs of time, money, and respondent burden.

CBECS background

CBECS is a complex sample survey that produces the only national-level data on the characteristics and energy use in commercial buildings in the United States. The survey was first conducted in 1979 and was then conducted triennially between 1983 and 1995. Starting in 1995, it has been conducted quadrennially, with the exception of 2011 when EIA budget cuts caused a delay in data collection, postponing the tenth CBECS until 2012. The sample size for CBECS has historically ranged from 5,000 to 7,000 buildings. The target 2012 CBECS sample size was increased to improve precision and support broader uses of the data; the final responding sample for the 2012 CBECS was 6,720 buildings.

CBECS data are used for many purposes, such as: benchmarking, building design, policy planning, building code development, market research, forecasting energy consumption, and as a critical input to the Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR® models. The data are also made available to the public through tables, reports, and public use data files containing building-level records, which allow users to conduct their own analyses. Before releasing public data, disclosure analysis is performed, masking certain variables, and removing names, addresses, and other geographic identifiers, so that individual buildings cannot be identified from this file.

CBECS is a two-part survey: the Buildings Survey and a follow-up Energy Suppliers Survey (ESS). In the first part, the Buildings Survey, detailed information about the buildings is collected from building owners and managers, such as building size, age, structural characteristics, operating hours, ownership, energy sources and uses, and types of energy-related equipment used. In addition, energy consumption and expenditures data for a one-year reference period are collected from building respondents whenever possible. Sometimes building respondents cannot provide these data, or the energy data fail predetermined edits; in these cases, a follow-on survey is conducted with the individual energy suppliers for the building. The ESS has historically been conducted by mail, but as of 2012 was conducted primarily as a web-based collection.

The Buildings Survey is conducted by professional interviewers using a computerized survey instrument. The interview protocol requires that the interviewer screen the building for eligibility, and then locate a respondent who is knowledgeable about energy usage in the building to provide them with a folder of information about CBECS and to set an appointment for a future interview. The interview can be conducted either in-person or by telephone. The folder includes worksheets identifying data items that may require research. Upon completion of the interview, the interviewer also scans or requests sample copies of the energy bills to be used for data editing.


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1National Research Council. (2012). Effective Tracking of Building Energy Use: Improving the Commercial Buildings and Residential Energy Consumption Surveys. Panel on Redesigning the Commercial Buildings and Residential Energy Consumption Surveys of the Energy Information Administration. W.F. Eddy and K. Marton, Eds. Committee on National Statistics, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education, and Board on Energy and Environmental Systems, Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

2After a building respondent supplies consumption and expenditures data, a regression model runs in the survey instrument to test whether or not the consumption is within expected bounds for a building of similar size and building activity.


Specific questions on this report may be directed to Carolyn Hronis (202-586-4686).