Energy in Buildings

Commercial buildings include a variety of building types—offices, hospitals, schools, police stations, places of worship, warehouses, hotels, and shopping malls. Different commercial building activities have unique energy needs, but as a whole, space heating accounted for about 25% of the total energy use in commercial buildings in 2012. The building types that use the most amount of energy are generally mercantile and service buildings. The top five energy-consuming building types used half of the total energy consumed by commercial building in 2012 and include the following: mercantile and service (15%), office (14%), education (10%), healthcare (8%), lodging (6%). Commercial buildings could save up to $60 billion if investments in energy efficiency were ramped up by just 1-4%, according to a study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE).

Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings Today


Video courtesy of DOE

High Performance Features

Major Energy Sources used in Commercial Buildings

In most large building, the main sources of energy are generated from electricity usage, natural gas, district heat, fuel oil and coal. It is important to understand how to identify and estimate the potential value of Demand Control in their own buildings using data from a utility “smart meter” or a power metering solution. In many cases a Building Automation System that controls HVAC and lighting to manage both electrical consumption and demand can deliver substantial, consistent savings while maintaining building comfort and productivity. Intelligent efficiency measures applied to just 35% of eligible commercial floor area in buildings with 50,000 or more square feet could save upwards of 50 TWh by 2030, assuming a conservative savings estimate of 20% – more than 1% of U.S. projected energy use by that year. Combined with 17 other common-sense efficiency measures, such as smart manufacturing and voltage reduction, the U.S. could save 22% of its total projected electricity use in 2030

Energy Auditing

An important step in assessing how your building uses energy is performing a professional energy audit. This can situate your building on the path toward significant improvements in energy efficiency, monetary savings, improved comfort and much more. Energy audits can be seen as a starting point to provide building operators with the information they need to make better energy management decisions in the short and long term. A 2011 report notes that “energy audits are a powerful tool for uncovering operational and equipment improvements that will save energy, reduce energy costs, and lead to higher performance” (SEE Action). Energy audits can be done as a stand-alone effort but may be conducted as part of a larger analysis across a group of facilities, or across an owner’s entire portfolio.

  • Improved energy efficiency
  • Reduced heating & cooling bills
  • Reduced environmental impact
  • Improved occupant comfort
  • Improved building health & safety
  • Improved indoor air quality


Commercial building energy performance benchmarking is a foundational element of an organization’s energy management strategy because you can’t manage what you don’t measure. Across many commercial building markets, the practice has become standard operating procedure as energy costs and associated environmental and sustainability issues have raised awareness around the importance of energy management (DOE).

The following steps provide a framework for designing a benchmarking plan:

  1. Establish the goal for benchmarking
  2. Secure buy-in from leadership
  3. Build a benchmarking team
  4. Identify output metrics
  5. Identify data inputs
  6. Select a benchmarking tool
  7. Determine the collection method
  8. Consider a data verification process
  9. Evaluate analysis techniques
  10. Communicate the plan
  11. Plan for change

Practices & Strategies for Saving Energy

  • Smart buildings save energy and improve occupant comfort
    Smart buildings use information and communication technologies to integrate building systems and to automate operations and control. They consume less energy than conventional buildings while enhancing occupants’ comfort and productivity. This report provides an in-depth look at various smart technologies for commercial building end uses including HVAC, lighting, and plug loads.
  • Benchmarking Starter Kit
    Benchmarking the energy performance of your buildings is a key first step to understanding and reducing energy consumption and your carbon footprint. All buildings can assess their energy performance, water efficiency, and carbon emissions using Portfolio Manager.
  • A Guide to Energy Audits
    Simple energy audits equip building owners with a list of no-cost or low-cost recommendations and a general road map for future planning. Many of these recommendations are easily implemented by operations and maintenance staff, and energy savings are seen almost immediately. Resulting cost savings can then be put toward future energy efficiency projects.

Case Study

Energy Audit Case Study – Tower One Tower East in New Haven, CT

Author: Sustainable Engineering Solutions, LLC

Due to the excessive operating costs commonly associated with elderly housing facilities Sustainable Engineering Solutions, LLC was retained by New England Conservation Services as part of a comprehensive energy conservation initiative at the Tower One Tower East Retirement Facility in New Haven, Connecticut. Our goal was to survey the current heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems with the intention to provide recommendations for efficiency upgrades. Multiple site visits were made to the facility to review the mechanical systems in both buildings and gain an understanding of the condition of the existing systems and how they are currently being operated.

Additional Resources

  • Energy Efficiency and Electric Infrastructure in North Carolina
  • National Commercial Building Energy Consumption Data
  • EMIS gives property owners and managers the ability to see their energy use and take action to reduce waste. This toolkit gives an introduction to EMIS.
  • Legacy Health enrolled in Energy Trust of Oregon’s commercial Strategic Energy Management (SEM) Initiative for assistance in establishing a culture around energy savings at its facilities. Specifically, the program offers ongoing support as well as a method to track progress and address periodic questions. This initiative is one of the offerings Energy Trust of Oregon provides to all commercial customers of Portland General Electric, Pacific Power, NW Natural, Cascade Natural Gas, and Avista looking to save money on energy bills. The utilities collect a small additional fee on eligible customer utility bills. These collected fees fund the program and the rebates/incentives that are offered.  Click here for more information.