The CBECS and Why It’s Important

Image courtesy of EDC magazine

After years of financial setbacks, the Department of Energy’s national sample survey of commercial building energy use commences.

Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Environmental Design + Construction (EDC) magazine.

April marks an important milestone for the high-performance building community. After years of setbacks and complications stemming from financial strife, the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) will begin fielding data.

It has been 10 years since the last full set of survey data. Considering the building design and construction industry’s current focus on performance data, not to mention the leaps and bounds made by green building standards over the past decade, the CBECS could not have come at a better time.

The CBECS is akin to a national census of building performance. The U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) develops a frame—or list—of all commercial buildings in the country. The EIA surveys thousands of those buildings throughout the country using a validated methodology. These buildings constitute a statistical sample that is designed to represent all 4.9 million commercial buildings in the U.S. The CBECS provides the green building community with a vital dataset that serves as the benchmarking backbone for the ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager, LEED, the 2030 Challenge and various energy modeling tools.

The size and scope of the CBECS makes it unique among other datasets. Moreover, it is unlikely that anyone from the private sector would undertake a comparatively vast effort anytime soon. This leaves the CBECS as a one-of-a-kind dataset that provides invaluable information to the built environment. But if it is so important, why hasn’t the survey been updated since 2003?

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