200-Year-Old Swiss Home Gets Green Makeover

They sure don’t make ’em like they used to. A modestly sized 1,850-square-foot home with thick, castle-like stone walls is not what you tend to find in the exurbs of, say, Cleveland. But nearly 200 years ago in a Swiss village, masonry such as this was all the rage, and for good reason — the thermal mass of the walls kept occupants warm in the icy mountain winters and shaded them in summer.

Today, the home, built in 1814 in the town of Chamoson, Switzerland, has been given a two-century upgrade by designers from Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes to meet modern insulation standards and to add renewable energy systems to its already relatively green footprint.

The renovated masonry home on a steep hillside in Chamoson, Switzerland. Image by Thomas Jantscher via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

The renovated masonry home on a steep hillside in Chamoson, Switzerland. Image by Thomas Jantscher via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

Located at the foot of jagged, imposing peaks, the old rural house came into being during the Napoleonic Wars. Built from rocks that came directly from the mountains behind it, the rough exterior stone walls look much the same today. The most prominent change during the renovations that began in 2004 was the removal of the ancient wooden roof and other wooden elements on the upper floor.

Originally built in 1814, here is the house as it appear in 2004, before retrofits began. Image via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

Originally built in 1814, here is the house in 2004, before retrofits began. Image via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

In place of the wood, Savioz Fabrizzi used exposed concrete with an inner layer of foam glass insulation, which extends through much of the modernized interior. Care was taken to match the color of the concrete shell to the original light-gray stone walls and to match the original contours of the building. The new roof also includes 247 square feet of solar panels to provide about 35 percent of the energy needed to heat the structure.

... And here is the home as it appears today, with most of the old wood replaced by concrete. Image by Thomas Jantscher via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

… And here is the home as it appears today, with most of the old wood replaced by concrete and an added rooftop solar array. Image by Thomas Jantscher via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

In some places, window wells were expanded with thermal glass to let in more natural light and while also reducing solar gain. The cast frames of the windows were placed flush to the edge of the outside walls to create a more uniform line to the shell of the building and also to provide additional structural support. A new HVAC system also provides more controlled ventilation to reduce energy bills.

A view of the kitchen shows the blending of the old masonry and new concrete elements. Image by Thomas Jantscher via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

A view of the kitchen shows the blending of the old masonry and new concrete elements. Image by Thomas Jantscher via Savioz Fabrizzi Architectes.

At the base of the sloping property, a garage roof was added to keep cars hidden from the view from the home’s windows. The interiors were also upgraded with modern appliances and a contemporary look that juxtaposes the original rugged stone masonry with the smooth concrete forms that provide extra load-bearing support for the old house.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.