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Use of energy explained Energy use in commercial buildings

About 5.6 million commercial1 buildings had a total of about 87.1 billion square feet of floorspace in the United States in 2012.2 Five types of commercial buildings—retail (includes mercantile and service buildings), office, education, healthcare, and lodging—represented 53% of all commercial buildings and had 62% of the total commercial building floorspace. These types of buildings also used the most energy of all commercial buildings.

Electricity and natural gas are the dominant energy sources in commercial buildings

Electricity and natural gas accounted for about 93% of the total energy consumed in commercial buildings in 2012. Natural gas is generally used directly in commercial buildings to heat water and interior space and to operate cooling equipment. Some commercial buildings have combined heat and power systems that heat and cool the building and generate electricity for the building. Most of these combined heat and power systems use natural gas. Natural gas was the source of 32% of total energy end-use consumption in commercial buildings in 2012.

Electricity's3 share of total energy end-use consumption in commercial buildings increased from 38% in 1979 to 61% in 2012.

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More site electricity is consumed for lighting than for any other single end use.

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Office equipment has contributed to the increase in electricity consumption

The increase in electricity consumption in commercial buildings between 1979 and 2012 is related to the increased use of existing electrical equipment and the introduction of new types of electrical equipment. The new equipment includes computers (desktop computers, monitors, and servers), office equipment (printers, copiers, and fax machines), telecommunications equipment, and medical diagnostic and monitoring equipment. In addition to electricity consumed directly by the equipment, the equipment may also require additional electricity consumption for cooling and ventilation.

Lighting is the largest single use of electricity in commercial buildings

Lighting is the largest end use of electricity in commercial buildings, and many buildings target lighting for energy savings through energy-efficient light sources and advanced lighting technologies. Nearly all commercial buildings have some type of lighting. Examples of buildings without lighting are warehouses and vacant buildings.

Commercial buildings in the South U.S. Census region have the most floorspace and use more energy than other regions

The total floorspace of commercial buildings in the South U.S. Census region was 34.3 billion square feet in 2012. Major fuel consumption in these buildings was equivalent to about 2.6 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu).

Large commercial buildings use the most energy

In 2012, about 88% of the commercial buildings in the United States had less than 25,000 square feet of floorspace each, but they accounted for only about 32% of total commercial building energy use.

In contrast to smaller commercial buildings, larger commercial buildings had a much larger share of total commercial building energy consumption than their share of the total number of commercial buildings. In 2012, less than 1% of buildings were larger than 200,000 square feet, but these buildings accounted for about 26% of total commercial building energy consumption. About 11% of commercial buildings in 2012 were between 25,000 square feet and 200,000 square feet, and these buildings accounted for about 42% of total energy consumption in commercial buildings.

Nearly 40% of U.S. commercial building floorspace is in the South U.S. Census region.

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Buildings in the South U.S. Census region accounted for more than one-third of total energy consumed in commercial buildings in 2012.

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1 Commercial buildings are defined as all buildings where at least half of the floorspace is not used for residential, industrial, or agricultural purposes. They include building types that might not commonly be considered commercial, such as schools, correctional institutions, and buildings used for religious worship.

2 2012 is the most recent year for which detailed data were available at the time of this update.

3 Electricity end-use consumption; excludes losses in electricity generation, transmission, and distribution.

Last updated: September 28, 2018