Merry Christmas!….. wouldn’t we all just love to be sitting here tonight! No snow in Zurich here so we are imagining too!
Living in Switzerland, I often get asked about Swiss Chalets, which are admired throughout the world. Zermatt, Gstaad, Verbier, Klosters, Arosa, St. Moritz, Cran Montana, Saas Fe ….. etc are great all year round but there is something about that chocolate box image of a Swiss Chalet in winter that really captures the imagination…..
Whether renovating an old chalet or building new, reclaimed wood and granite is highly sought after. Old chalets, barns and outbuildings are deconstructed and carefully reused to create something which is quite unique and authentic. There is such a small supply now as people have always recycled old buildings in the mountains, that the Swiss now have to look further afield.
The typical traditional Swiss Chalet was built for and by the local people living in the mountain areas, (which is a large proportion of Switzerland). Using local wood (pine, larch and oak) with the foundation, lower level walls and roof in local stone or granite. The wealthier would plaster over the stone and have elaborate paintings or phrases on their homes – I guess if you could read you were doing quite well. Nowadays these humble chalets which happen to be near the best ski resorts sell for millions of CHF/$ and if the original owners and builders from history, could see they would probably die again, laughing.
The chalet was (and some working farms still are) are kept warm by heat radiating from livestock who lived on the ground floor and the attic spaces were used for storing hay to feed the animals during winter. This also provided insulation. Windows and doors were small to prevent heat loss – they didn’t care if they had a view of the Matterhorn or not they saw it all day long!
Reclaimed wood is a resource widely used in many new constructions today.
and … Bathrooms
The Kachelofen was used since the 1100s to provide heating/baking and drying. Theses furnaces were made from local bricks/granite or decorative ceramic tiles if you were posh!
They were fired by locally grown wood which heated up cherry stones and radiated heat throughout the day/night. This ensured the living spaces were smoke free and better to live in. From the 1800s onwards proper fireplaces were built and became more popular.
Today it is not very unusual to find Swiss building modern day Kachelofens where heat is radiated through granite into the room and a cosy sitting place can be found.
Although personally I would recreate something authentic using some reclaimed beams like these…?
I am always asked about the efficiency of Swiss construction and the industry here is widely respected. The Swiss are innovators and since 2006, ‘Minergie’ a certification standard, was introduced to ensure healthy and sustainable practices would be adopted as standard for building homes, offices and schools is an option used in Switzerland.
The momentum has grown in the last 10 years and many new builds offer Minergie standard. From 2016 this will also apply on sports facilities and sales outlets. Indeed some of the targets for certification are no longer optional, like the banning of formaldehyde in glue on wood for the construction of heated rooms, which was incorporated into Swiss Law in 2014.
Traditional details to Minergie standards for a new build Chalet in Flims photos by me……
The Minergie certification covers things like using sustainable materials, specified insulation, daylight requirements are measured, gray energy outputs like wi-fi etc are restricted… there is a very low impact on the health of the occupants and environment. Heating comes (not from a herd of cattle – which could prove tricky in some locations) but from a heat source pump which takes warmth from the earth 50m below the house and uses it to circulate warm water under the floors via a traditional heat exchanger system, (the reverse happens in summer and floors are cooled). Windows and doors can be larger but are triple glazed and a fresh air system is introduced by a small vent above the windows to prevent you having to open them for air and lose too much heat. Solar panels are used to heat water, and can be integrated into the design to look like slate. The initial cost is high, at the moment a heat pump (300m2/3000sqft house) installation will cost you around CHF/$70,000. However, technology is evolving and soon it will be possible to use a much less expensive air pump systems above ground. At the moment those are still a bit too noisy to be popular. The Swiss do not like noise!
Outside of Switzerland, people are amazed that all this is happening in this small country in the middle of Europe. How are the Swiss so good at that, sticking to the rules??? being so environmentally friendly??? etc……….
Of course, they are quite a law abiding bunch to start with, and many people here are ecologically aware BUT the other thing the Swiss are good at is being careful with money (coming from a Scot – that’s serious!). There are real incentives to be ‘greener’ (do hate that Shrek-like term) and that in Switzerland means SAVE money! … oh and the environment….
The big attraction is to have the running costs of your home almost zero and that is very attractive! The winters are (usually) long and cold…. Actually, it will take about 20 years to recoup the expenditure but the Swiss don’t move every 2/3 years like they do in the UK and they are willing to invest in their future.
The other major motivation is that these green expenses are deductible from your tax and also qualify for special low-interest loans so everyone can invest in the cleaner, healthier way to live. Save the environment and save money in the long term……..
I bought an electric assisted pedal bike – well there are a lot of hills! I was surprised to receive a cheque from the council for CHF/$300. Those guys at the local council are super motivated to give you money back to be eco! Still not quite sure how they knew…????
So even if you are not building/renting your own Swiss Chalet you can use some of the methods and ideas when you remodel or build your own home. Be sure to pop into your local council and demand a rebate!!! … and of course live healthier and help save our planet.
Feel free to leave any questions or comments I would really like to hear your thoughts!