Editorial Feature

The Different Types of Fuel Used in Buildings


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It is estimated that over 40% of all energy consumed in the United States is used by commercial, industrial, and residential buildings. Although many buildings in the United States remain dependent on coal and natural gas, several types of renewable energy sources are expected to replace these traditional fuels for the betterment of public and environmental health.

Energy Use in Commercial Buildings

In terms of commercial buildings, which include office buildings, hospitals, schools, police stations, hotels, churches, and shopping malls, several different energy sources are used to power a wide variety of electrical equipment and appliances. For example, buildings that are used for health care purposes consume approximately 9% of the total energy that is delivered to commercial and institutional buildings in the United States. Despite the high energy consumption hospitals and other healthcare entities use, these types of buildings only account for 3% of all buildings.

Besides the building type, the daily activities of each building will also determine the type of energy that will primarily be used. For example, office buildings will primarily use electrical energy for lighting purposes, an activity that accounts for 17% of all electricity used by U.S. commercial buildings. Following lighting, refrigeration, ventilation, and cooling consume 16%, 16% and 15% of all U.S. commercial building energy use respectively. Comparatively, buildings that are used for lodging, as well as those that provide health care and food services, will utilize a significantly greater amount of natural gas for cooking, hot water generation, and cleaning and laundry services.

Energy Use in Residential Buildings

When considering the energy use of residential buildings, it has been estimated that over 51% of U.S. households will dedicate their energy consumption to both space heating and air conditioning appliances. Residential buildings are considered to be both detached and attached single-family homes, apartments, and mobile homes.

Types of Energy

Currently, commercial buildings are responsible for approximately 40% of the greenhouse gases that are released in the United States. Consequently, buildings in the U.S. contribute approximately 9% of the world’s carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The three largest energy sources used in buildings include electricity, natural gas, and petroleum.


It has been estimated that over 70% of the electricity generated in the United States is attributed to the burning of coal, petroleum or natural gas, whereas 20% of electricity is generated by nuclear power stations. Office buildings are considered to be the largest electricity consumers in the United States, as their annual consumption of 2,170 trillion Btu of fuel is needed to provide the 719 trillion Btu of electricity used by these buildings each year. With a yearly consumption of 1,121 trillion Btu of energy used to provide 371 trillion Btu of electricity, buildings used for educational purposes are the second largest electricity consumers.

Natural Gas

Approximately 14% and 21% of the natural gas consumed in the United States is used to power commercial buildings and residential homes, respectively. While most natural gas is used for space and water heating purposes, this form of energy is also useful for providing fuel to stoves, ovens, clothes dryers, lighting fixtures, and other household appliances. In office buildings, natural gas can also be used for air conditioning, along with space and water heating equipment.

To reduce the dependence on coal, natural gas has often been considered a more efficient and cleaner fuel source. Despite this, there are barriers limiting the widespread incorporation of natural gas into commercial buildings. One of the leading restrictions is the high percentage of non-owner-occupied buildings, many of which have been designed by developers to speed up construction time rather than reduce the operating costs of tenants and other non-owner occupants.

A Brighter Future

The devastating effects that climate pollution can have on public health has increased the pressure to change how electricity and other types of energy are generated and consumed each day. The widespread reduction in coal use around the world, particularly in the United States, has allowed for more renewable energy plants, such as those powered by wind and solar energy, to emerge. Bold renewable energy targets initiated in states like California have significantly reduced the number of fossil fuels burned on site by replacing these energy sources with renewable electricity.

Sources and Further Reading

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Benedette Cuffari

Written by

Benedette Cuffari

After completing her Bachelor of Science in Toxicology with two minors in Spanish and Chemistry in 2016, Benedette continued her studies to complete her Master of Science in Toxicology in May of 2018. During graduate school, Benedette investigated the dermatotoxicity of mechlorethamine and bendamustine; two nitrogen mustard alkylating agents that are used in anticancer therapy.


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