Vernacular Case Study: Traditional Swiss Alpine Chalet
(Photo credit: Caroline Nilsson)
The Swiss Chalet uses the environment to its advantage in order to keep its inside environment comfortable, especially in the wintertime. The slate roof serves as a thermal mass to absorb sunlight during the day and retain heat through the night, and the dark wooden structure absorbs sunlight, radiant warmth from the roof, and has low conductivity (which is good for maintaining thermal environments). The big roof overhangs block direct summer sunlight from the deep-set windows, but reflected light from the snow as well as early morning sunlight can come through in the winter. During the spring, this overhang serves to protect the house and the wooden frame from the wet, melting snow from the roof. The orientation of these chalets face south, with roof planes towards the east and west (to absorb optimum sunlight for as many hours as possible). The houses are on stilts, which serves many practical functions throughout the year. Snowbanks formed beneath and around the house, and on the roof, serve as extra insulation during the wintertime, as well as forming a shield from the downward circulation of frigid wind from the mountaintop. because the roofplane is oriented flank-side to the mountain, snow merges with the roof like a ski-jump, saving the interior of the house from a harsh draft.