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Use of energy explained Energy use in commercial buildings

The commercial sector consists of a variety of facilities and equipment that consume energy, including those found in commercial buildings. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) periodically conducts the Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), a national-sample survey that publishes information on the number (stock) of U.S. commercial buildings, to understand energy-related building characteristics in relation to how much energy commercial buildings consume. CBECS includes data for energy use by type of commercial building according to the principal activity taking place in the building, by type of energy source, and by the type of use the energy is consumed for in a building. The most recent CBECS was conducted in 2018.

In 2018, the United States had about 5.9 million commercial buildings, totaling about 96.4 billion square feet of floorspace. Energy consumption in these buildings was about 6.8 quadrillion British thermal units (quads). Major fuels consumed within commercial buildings accounted for about 72% of commercial sector end-use energy consumption. In terms of principal building activities, warehouse and storage buildings, followed by office buildings, were the most numerous commercial buildings, and they had the most floorspace square footage. Office buildings, however, consumed more energy than any other type of commercial building.

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Space heating is the largest single energy end use in U.S. commercial buildings

Each commercial building has unique energy needs, but as a whole, about 32% of energy use for all U.S. commercial buildings in 2018 was for space heating. Ventilation and lighting were next for highest energy use in commercial buildings; each accounted for about 10% of total commercial building energy use in 2018. Climate and weather affect the relative shares of space heating and cooling annually and by region of the country.

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Electricity and natural gas were the main energy sources in U.S. commercial buildings in 2018

Electricity accounted for 60% and natural gas for 34% of total energy use in U.S. commercial buildings in 2018. Buildings use electricity for all end uses. Natural gas is generally used directly in commercial buildings to heat water and interior space and to operate cooking and cooling equipment.

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Some commercial buildings use district heating and cooling systems. Most district energy systems serve complexes of buildings associated with education, health, and public assembly activities.

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

About 36% of U.S. commercial buildings were in the U.S. South Census Region, and they had the most total floorspace—36%— in 2018. The South is the largest census region geographically and has the largest share of the U.S. total population—32%. Total energy consumption in commercial buildings in the South was equivalent to about 2.3 quads and 35% of total U.S. commercial building energy use in 2018. Of total energy use in commercial buildings in the South, electricity accounted for 69%, natural gas accounted for 26%, district energy for 4%, and fuel oil for 1%.

Number and floorspace of U.S. commercial buildings by U.S. census region in 2018
Census region Number of buildings (thousands) Percentage of total Floorspace (billion square feet) Percentage of total
All commercial buildings 5,918 96,423
South 2,143 36% 34,907 36%
Midwest 1,719 29% 25,932 27%
West 1,264 21% 19,633 20%
Northeast 793 13% 15,951 17%

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Last updated: June 29, 2023, with most recent data available.