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Today in Energy

January 17, 2023

U.S. commercial buildings consumed more fuel for space heating than anything else in 2018

end uses of energy consumption by U.S. commercial buildings
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey
Note: Btu = British thermal units

In 2018, nearly one-third (32%) of the energy consumed by commercial buildings in the United States was used for space heating, the largest end-use category tracked in our latest Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS).

Commercial buildings in the United States—such as offices, warehouses, and food service buildings—consumed 6.8 quadrillion British thermal units (quads) of energy in 2018, and almost one-third (2.2 quads) of that total was used for space heating. Space heating was the most energy-intensive end use in U.S. commercial buildings during 2018, especially in colder climates. We estimate that for every foot of U.S. commercial floorspace, 25,000 British thermal units (Btu) of energy were consumed for space heating.

Service buildings—such as salons, vehicle service or repair shops, and dry cleaners—used 52% of their energy for space heating, the largest share for any building type. Public assembly, religious worship, education, and vacant buildings were the only other building types that used more than 40% of their energy for space heating.

U.S. commercial building energy consumption
Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey
Note: * indicates partial data due to high relative standard error or low sample size.

Food service buildings used the lowest percentage of energy for space heating, but they were the most energy-intensive U.S. commercial building type in 2018 on a per-square-foot basis. Food service buildings were, on average, the smallest in terms of physical size, meaning less floorspace needed to be heated or cooled. In U.S. food service buildings, 40% of energy was used for cooking, more than triple the next-closest building types, lodging and enclosed and strip malls, which used 13% of energy for cooking. Food service buildings also used more energy for refrigeration than all other building types except food sales buildings.

CBECS is the only nationally representative survey that collects information about U.S. building characteristics and energy use in commercial buildings. The CBECS survey process spans about four years, from developing the sample frame and survey questionnaire to releasing data to the public. Our final 2018 CBECS data were released in December 2022. CBECS includes more tables on total major fuel, electricity, and natural gas consumption and expenditures, and it adds data tables for fuel oil, district heat, and end-use estimates.

Principal contributor: Zack Marohl