How can we track energy use to building characteristics?

Tracking energy usage and building characteristics with CBECS


The Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS), conducted by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), is the nation’s only comprehensive study of commercial buildings. It estimates the number, characteristics, and energy-use patterns of all types of buildings in the U.S. commercial and nonresidential sectors.

Westat performed 10 of the 11 CBECS cycles fielded since 1979. We performed all sampling and Building Interview data collection activities for the 2018 CBECS.


Westat implemented new efficient techniques for listing and sample frame construction, including “virtual listing,” which was developed to reduce the costs associated with field listing and to improve the quality of the listings.

We implemented a fully multimode approach to data collection. Westat’s Multimode Manager (M3) platform controlled the respondent prompt activities using a strictly defined and implemented prompting protocol.

Respondents had the flexibility to complete the interview online (self-administered via the web) or with an interviewer either in person or over the phone. More than 7,200 interviews for sampled buildings, strip shopping centers, and establishments were completed between April and December 2019. Nearly 50% of the interviews were completed via traditional in-person data collection, about 44% were completed via the web, and 6% were completed over the phone.

After the Building Interview component, additional energy consumption and expenditure data was obtained through the Energy Supplier Survey (ESS), a follow-up study of local utilities and other energy suppliers nationwide. The ESS data were collected using a secure website that offered several reporting options designed to minimize reporting burden for the suppliers.

Identified respondents were prompted throughout the field period via a combination of phone calls, text messages, emails, FedEx mailings, and in-person interviewer visits.

CBECS also used Blaise 5, a comprehensive commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) survey processing system. It provided integrated multimode support for computer-assisted survey data collection.


The information provided by CBECS is essential for updating energy policies and goals, setting benchmarks for special conservation programs (such as the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Energy Star” ratings), building design, building code development, and tracking the impact of new technologies and construction practices on energy consumption and efficiency.

The users and uses of the CBECS data are diverse, including

  • Building owners and managers (for benchmarking)
  • Energy forecasters (for modeling)
  • Architects (for planning)
  • Students (for research)
  • Developers of new energy technology (to gauge market potential)
  • Government leaders (to formulate policy)


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