Just How Much Building Space Is There in the World?

That question, as essential as it is to any assessment of global energy consumption, is very difficult to answer. You would think, given how much time we spend in buildings, how big the real estate and construction industries are, and how useful this knowledge would theoretically be to any company that sells lighting, heating, or cooling equipment around the world, that someone ought to know. But, until recently, you couldn’t find any reports that would provide a complete answer.

We at Pike Research decided this was information that was absolutely essential for our analysis of market size and energy consumption for building sector products and services, though, so we embarked on a comprehensive effort to figure out how much building space there is. In our review of existing information on building space, we found surprisingly little documentation. The DOE’s Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) and Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) use a survey method to estimate the size and character of the building stock of the United States, and similar estimates are available for a few other countries. The real estate world tracks a number of commercial building types such as office and retail buildings, yet others such as educational, healthcare, assembly, and religious buildings remain hardly documented for most countries.

Armed with what information exists on the building stock, we developed a model that uses a number of statistical indicators to help fill out the rest of the world’s building stock, such as gross domestic product and population. Not surprisingly, national statistics on economic activity and population growth serve as strong indicators of changes in the size and composition of the building stock. But other factors, such as preferences for single family homes or public sector investments in education, can play a role in determining the actual mix of building types in a particular country as well.

Our analysis uncovered some surprising results. The residential building stock, ringing in at 1.2 trillion SF today, is over three times the size of the commercial building stock, which is about 380 billion SF, as shown in the above chart. While China and India are often discussed in the same breath given the immense scale of their economic activity and growth, China’s commercial building stock is over 20 times the size of India’s. The building stock of Asia Pacific is growing faster than anywhere else in the world, at a rate of about 4 percent a year, and the building stocks of Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa are all growing fast, too, at a rate about 2 percent a year. In contrast, growth in the stocks of North America and Europe remain a constant 0.5 percent to 1 percent on average.

Of course, growth in the building stock generally means a corresponding increase in the amount of energy consumed. With knowledge of just how large the building stock is, though, we have a chance of demonstrating the extent to which energy consumption and carbon emissions can be reduced through efficient building technologies, too.

Article by Eric Bloom

Photo by Fletcher6/Wikimedia

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