U.S. Energy Information Administration logo

Use of energy explained Energy use in commercial buildings

Commercial buildings include a variety of building types—offices, hospitals, schools, police stations, places of worship, warehouses, hotels, and shopping malls. Different commercial building activities have unique energy needs, but as a whole, space heating accounted for about 25% of the total energy use in commercial buildings in 2012.

Types of energy used in commercial buildings

Electricity and natural gas are the most common energy sources used in commercial buildings. Most individual commercial buildings have their own heating and cooling systems. However, there are district energy systems that supply heating and cooling to groups of commercial buildings. When many buildings are close together, such as on a college campus or in a city, having a central heating and cooling plant that distributes steam, hot water, or chilled water to multiple buildings is sometimes more efficient. District energy systems may also produce electricity along with heating and cooling energy. District energy systems generally use fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, or fuel oil), although some use renewable sources of energy (biomass, geothermal, solar, and wind energy).

Click to enlarge

Energy use by type of building

Of all the commercial building types, mercantile and service buildings use the most total energy. Other commercial users of energy include offices, schools, health care and lodging facilities, food establishments, and many others.

Click to enlarge

The top five energy-consuming building categories used about half of the energy consumed by all commercial buildings in 2012, and they include the following types of buildings:

  • Mercantile and service (15% of total energy consumed by commercial buildings)
    • Malls and stores
    • Car dealerships
    • Dry cleaners
    • Gas stations
  • Office (14% of consumption)
    • Professional and government offices
    • Banks
  • Education (10% of consumption)
    • Elementary, middle, and high school
    • Colleges
  • Health care (8% of consumption)
    • Hospitals
    • Medical offices
  • Lodging (6% of consumption)
    • Hotels
    • Dormitories
    • Nursing homes

Last updated: September 28, 2018