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April 24, 2023

2018 CBECS used new technology to virtually list buildings and collect data

stock image of buildings
Source: Getty Images

The Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) is our sample survey about energy consumption in commercial buildings. Throughout its more than 40-year history, the CBECS has adapted to change. The most recent changes include using satellite images to create a sampling frame, which we use in the process to select the buildings we survey, and giving respondents an option to complete the survey online.

The CBECS survey process spans about four years, from developing the sample frame and survey questionnaire to releasing data to the public. To collect the 2018 CBECS data, we used a new method to help build its sampling frame, which is the list of commercial buildings the sample is selected from. No list of every commercial building in the United States exists, so to help construct a sampling frame for CBECS, we compile a list of all the commercial buildings in selected geographic areas.

In previous CBECS surveys, trained field staff walked or drove every block in selected areas and wrote down the name, address, and other descriptive information about commercial buildings within designated boundaries. Adapting to advancements in technology, the CBECS program developed a new method for listing buildings for the 2018 collection, called virtual listing. With virtual listing, staff used Google maps, satellite images, and data layers to identify buildings for the sample frame. Virtual listing saved time, used less than half of the labor hours of field listing, and had no travel costs. We found that virtual listing resulted in more complete building lists than field listing.

After the sample was selected, interviewers contacted buildings to find respondents for the survey. Respondents could complete either an in-person interview or a self-administered online questionnaire. The self-administered online questionnaire was new for 2018, allowing CBECS respondents to complete the survey on their own time. Of those buildings that responded to the CBECS, about 44% completed the survey online. The survey mode has advanced considerably since the first few CBECS cycles, when interviewers entered data using a paper and pencil booklet.

The CBECS program recently released a full set of methodological documentation for its 2018 data. CBECS is the only nationally representative survey that collects information about U.S. building characteristics and energy use in commercial buildings. Our final 2018 CBECS data were released in December 2022.

Principal contributor: Sarah Grady