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What can permit data tell us about commercial HVAC trends in code-driven projects?

Bonneville Power Administration

Commercial HVAC Data Collection

As part of their market research efforts, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) sought to understand how the commercial heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) market is changing over time. Essentially, they want to know which commercial HVAC systems are being installed, where, and in what building types. Existing efforts to characterize this sector, like the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance’s Commercial Building Stock Assessment, often lack granularity. Also, they tend to represent a single point in time and come at a high cost. As the industry seeks opportunities for energy efficiency in complex building systems, the need for cost-efficient data collection methods grows. To provide more real-time and granular information, Cadeo led a unique data collection approach supporting BPA’s market research.

We explored a new opportunity to observe regional market trends by gathering and cataloging publicly available permits for commercial new construction buildings in the Northwest. We developed a sampling approach to ensure the data represented regional projects completed between 2016 and 2020. First, the team requested permit files from regional permitting jurisdictions. Then, we cataloged the building and HVAC data in a data collection tool the team built. Finally, after thorough review of the data, we analyzed new construction trends using the final data set to understand regional HVAC efficiency improvements and future opportunities.


The permit data collection resulted in a robust data set of commercial HVAC systems installed through new construction and major remodels between 2016 and 2020 in the Pacific Northwest. BPA will use this database as the primary data source in their Commercial HVAC Market Model. Additionally, BPA shared the database as a new regional data source on commercial HVAC activity.

Through this work, Cadeo learned that publicly available construction permits represent a comprehensive data source for understanding commercial HVAC trends. The data indicates growth in efficient technologies, like variable refrigerant flow, heat pumps, and ductless heat pumps. It also provides insights into electrification impacts and opportunities.

Read more about our lessons learned from data collection on BPA’s website. You can also read the methodology, learn the market findings, and review the full data set.

Market Characterization

Cadeo characterizes markets to understand the technological, regulatory, and competitive dynamics that impact the market actors and policies our clients seek to influence. We go beyond typical supply chain mapping to characterize decision chains, key influencers, and the core economic drivers at play.