Commercial buildings are getting larger. In recent years, the size of commercial buildings has grown at a more rapid pace than the increase of the amount of buildings itself, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). But why?

The EIA recently released more results from its 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), in which it collected building characteristics data from more than 6,700 U.S. commercial buildings.

A commercial building, by the survey’s standards, includes “buildings greater than 1,000 square feet that devote more than half of their floorspace to activity that is not residential, manufacturing, industrial, or agricultural.”

According to the survey, the average building size for commercial buildings constructed before 1960 is 12,000 square feet, while those constructed between 1960 and 1999 average 16,300 square feet. Buildings constructed in the 2000s, meanwhile, average 19,000 square feet.

“Function and population shift are the two apparent main drivers,” the report concludes, though certain sectors have seen more dramatic shifts than others, which is addressed in the EIA’s analysis.

fig5_bgHealthcare buildings, for example have doubled in size since 1960, likely in order “to meet the needs of a population whose average life expectancy continues to increase.”

Lodging has seen an even greater increase in size over that span. The EIA’s analysis attributes that to more affordable and accessible air travel after 1978, when the industry was deregulated, which expedited the growth of both leisure and business travel.

Big box stores, according to the analysis, likely have driven the non-shopping mall retail subset, which tripled in size over that span. And the steady growth in size of religious worship buildings, according to the analysis, is “possible an effect of megachurches, which have seen a rise in popularity in the United States the past two decades.”

There is also an interesting dynamic among regions.

The South has the most commercial buildings, but the Northeast has the largest. The southern region makes up approximately 40 percent of the country’s commercial building floorspace and total number of buildings. The Northeast, meanwhile, has approximately one-third the number of commercial buildings as the South, according to the survey. That has much to do with the fact that almost half of commercial buildings constructed since 2000 were in the South.

Still, the Northeast boasts the largest commercial buildings overall, despite the fact that it’s the only one of the four regions (Northeast, Midwest, South, West) that has actually seen a decrease rather than an increase in average building size over the past decade. That’s simply because cities in the Northeast have had large buildings in place for longer. According to the survey, the median age for buildings in the Northeast is 46 years, while the median age in the South is 29.

1 Comment

  1. I am surprised to learn that we have been constructing our buildings to be so much larger. It makes sense considering how much our of our jobs require office buildings. The need to fit a larger population within the building has never been higher.

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