How Energy is Distributed throughout Commercial Buildings


How do Commercial Buildings – like offices, hospitals, schools, places of worship, warehouses, hotels, barber shops, libraries and shopping mall – use energy?

Commercial buildings include a wide variety of building types — offices, hospitals, schools, police stations, places of worship, warehouses, hotels, and shopping malls. Different commercial activities all have unique energy needs but, as a whole, commercial buildings use more than half of their energy for heating and lighting.

Types of Energy Used in Commercial Buildings

Energy Use by Type of Building

Electricity and natural gas are the most common energy sources used in commercial buildings. Commercial buildings also use another source that you don’t usually find used in residential buildings — district energy. When there are many buildings close together, like on a college campus or in a big city, it is sometimes more efficient to have a central heating and cooling plant that distributes steam, hot water, or chilled water to all of the different buildings. This type of system (referred to as a district system) can reduce equipment and maintenance costs as well as save energy.

The types of buildings in the commercial sector are used for a mix of many different activities and uses. Retail and service buildings use the most total energy of all the commercial building types. This is not very surprising when you think about all the stores and service businesses there are all over the United States. Other commercial users of energy include offices, schools, health care and lodging facilities, food establishments, and many others.

The top five energy-consuming building categories use about two-thirds of energy consumed by commercial buildings and include the following kinds of buildings:

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (September 2008).

  • Retail and Service (20% of total energy consumed by commercial buildings)
    • Malls and stores
    • Car dealerships
    • Dry cleaners
    • Gas stations
  • Office (17% of consumption)
    • Professional and government offices
    • Banks
  • Education (13% of consumption)
    • Elementary, middle, and high school
    • Colleges
  • Health Care (9% of consumption)
    • Hospitals
    • Medical offices
  • Lodging (8% of consumption)
    • Hotels
    • Dormitories
    • Nursing homes

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