Commercial building growth fuels heating, cooling needs

January 14, 2021 By    

Commercial buildings have gotten larger in the U.S. as their floorspace continues to grow faster than the number of commercial buildings, according to preliminary results from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s 2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey.

Building photo: miodrag ignjatovic/E+/Getty Images

The growth of high-occupancy commercial buildings such as lodging and health care facilities has increased energy consumption for heating and cooling. Photo: miodrag ignjatovic/E+/Getty Images

The survey estimates that 5.9 million U.S. commercial buildings contained a total of 97 billion sq. ft. as of 2018. The number of commercial buildings increased by 6 percent, and commercial square footage increased by 11 percent since the survey was last conducted in 2012.

Lodging, health care, and public order and safety buildings saw significant growth in building stock between 2000 and 2018. More than one-third of the 2018 building stock in these categories was constructed after 2000. These buildings tend to be larger than the average commercial building in the U.S., which contributed to the increase in commercial floorspace relative to commercial building stock.

Building types that are more likely to be occupied more often, such as lodging, health care, and public order and safety, tend to be newer than building types that are less likely to be in constant use throughout the year, like religious worship, education and vacant buildings.

More heating and cooling is required for buildings with longer operating hours. According to survey data for 2012, a building that was used for 80 hours a week consumed 86,300 British thermal units (Btu) per square foot per year, while a building that was used for all 168 hours in a week consumed 126,200 Btu per square foot per year.

The propane industry serves about 1.1 million commercial customers, who make up about 20 percent of U.S. demand.

About the Author:

Brian Richesson is the editor in chief of LP Gas Magazine. Contact him at or 216-706-3748.

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