From picturesque landscapes and a variety of outdoor pursuits to relaxing in the heart of nature, there are countless reasons to own a chalet in the Alps. However, renovating a chalet is no small feat and requires careful consideration, planning, and research to transform these cosy retreats into dream homes.
OVO Network has teamed up with Alex Willey from AW Renovations to understand how he and his team of expert renovators transform luxury chalets in the Alps. From site planning to choosing materials, working to a budget and navigating local regulations, we share everything you need to know about renovating your chalet in the Alps…
The pre-renovation process
1. Create a plan
It may sound obvious, but first things first – you need to have an idea of what you want from your renovation project. Renovation companies can help you turn your vision into a reality, but first, they need to know your expectations.
2. Set a budget
A vital aspect of your renovation plans is setting a realistic budget. Understanding the financial scope of your renovation project will help you make informed decisions and avoid unexpected financial strain. It’s essential to account for various costs, including materials, labour, and unforeseen expenses that may arise during the renovation process.
For example, in France, as soon as you plan to change the structural layout of a room or install a new underfloor heating system, a full rewire of the house is usually required. This is a result of thicker electrical cables which consume a significant amount of space.
Regardless of whether or not the rewire was in your initial plan, according to Alex, around 90% of chalets that his team works on need rewiring. This is a costly process that can range anywhere from 30,000€ all the way up to 50,000€ depending on the size of the property, so make sure you’re aware of this if you plan on making big changes!
3. Be adaptable
Unlike new builds, where you have the freedom to start from scratch and customise all aspects of the project, renovations have to fit into a pre-existing structure.
And just as renovation teams have to adapt, owners also have to be willing to compromise in some cases. For example, if you want to add extra insulation to the ceilings or floors, you will lose height in the room.
Additionally, you may need to prioritise some areas over others or be willing to exchange certain materials. For instance, many owners will opt to use the most expensive materials in communal spaces or master bedrooms.
To give a practical example, reclaimed timber cladding is a popular trend currently amongst Alpine properties, however, it’s expensive and more time-consuming to put in place. And, although owners tend to prefer its rustic effect, it may not always be realistic to include it throughout the entire property.
In this case, your renovation team may recommend a combination of finishes, which could incorporate both timber cladding and plaster/paint. This helps you cut some costs whilst still achieving a similar look.
4. Assess the condition of your property
Before you start renovating your chalet in the Alps, it’s crucial to assess its condition thoroughly.
In some cases, for significant changes, a structural engineer will need to identify any issues, and you’ll need to contact specialists who can evaluate the state of electrical and plumbing systems.
This initial assessment will serve as the foundation for your renovation plans. Renovators can then work with the structural engineer to align their plans with your vision.
Soil samples are essential for some renovation and construction projects. They provide critical information about the soil’s stability, bearing capacity, and composition, ensuring that suitable foundation and construction methods are employed. This guarantees the structural integrity and longevity of buildings and infrastructure.
If you’re unsure where to start, don’t worry. Many construction companies, including AW Renovations, are able to recommend services or even organise this on your behalf. However, do make sure that you factor this into your timeline and accept that results could affect your initial plans.
In France, if your property was built before 1997, an asbestos survey must be undertaken in order to ensure the safety of everyone at the property. “Le repérage amiante avant travaux (RAT)” or “Asbestos identification before work” is a legal obligation and should be considered in your plans if your property meets the criteria.
If the results are positive, a specialist company will have to remove and destroy the asbestos before you are able to continue with the renovation.
Do note that when renovating an apartment, there are certain conditions which are unique to your co-propriétaire agreement. This could affect when, how and what you are able to change, so make sure to check the rules thoroughly before taking action.
5. Research local building regulations
Equally important is familiarising yourself with local regulations and permits, ensuring compliance with building codes and environmental requirements, and securing the necessary approvals before commencing any work.
The “Déclaration préalable de travaux”
There are certain projects which do not require a full building permit or planning permission but do require you to make a declaration at the Mairie (town hall/mayor’s office). In France this is called the “Déclaration préalable de travaux (DP)“.
You can check if your work requires a Déclaration préalable de travaux by visiting the government website.
The “Permis de construire”
For larger building work, you’ll need a “Permis de construire” or building permit, similar to planning permission. Click here to see which type of work falls under this category and where to find your local town hall in order to obtain a permit.
6. Consider your surroundings
The unique weather patterns in the Alps can significantly impact construction timelines and access to the chalet.
Exterior projects which involve groundwork or masonry, for example, are not going to be possible in peak winter months.
Additionally, the availability of contractors and materials may vary at different times of the year, so being mindful of these factors will help ensure a smoother and more efficient renovation experience.
Accessibility is another significant challenge in the Alps. Steep hills, narrow paths and uneven terrain can make transportation of materials and equipment much more difficult.
It’s important to be aware that this might impact the timeline, budget and or method of working. Alex’s team were once required to organise 13m beams to be delivered to a chalet by helicopter – so be prepared for unforeseen obstacles!
6. Set realistic timelines
Setting realistic timelines is absolutely essential at the start of your renovation journey. The design and development phase (when the renovation company can create a plan that aligns with your own) in itself can take up to two months.
Depending on the scale of the renovation, lead-in times can take up to six months, with completion taking up to two years for major projects. Also, bear in mind that although you may have received a quote for the work, this doesn’t necessarily mean the work can begin right away.
Availability of materials and labour, general demand, weather and unforeseen hurdles all can affect your itinerary, so be flexible and patient, allowing for extra time if needed.
7. Prioritise quality
Though you may be keen to get your renovation underway as soon as possible, never compromise on quality. Despite wanting to use your chalet yourself, or advertise it for holiday rentals as soon as possible, the safety, sturdiness, appearance, comfort and overall longevity of your property should take top priority.
At AW Renovations, quality and impeccable standards of workmanship come first. Alex and his team are well-versed in producing a top-class product without sacrificing its value. With the vast majority of work carried out in-house, from insulation to woodwork, cladding, doors and windows, Alex can ensure the work is carried out to the highest standard by trusted professionals.
8. Establish your involvement
For some chalet owners, their property is their dream home. Therefore, being present throughout the whole process is non-negotiable.
For others, this might just be another asset of their investment portfolio, with the main purpose of generating a profit. This might mean they’re content with handing over the keys and letting the team get to work.
Wherever you may fall, aim to establish your involvement from the beginning. Have an idea of how often you’d like to meet with contractors on-site to review the progress and be available to communicate regularly about any issues.
The key areas of Alpine chalet refurbishment
1. Upgrading insulation and energy efficiency
In the Alps, where the elements can be both breathtaking and challenging, upgrading insulation becomes paramount – it’s vital for maintaining a comfortable atmosphere and optimising energy efficiency.
Before taking anything on, you should consider hiring a professional energy auditor to assess your property’s energy efficiency, as they can identify areas for improvement and provide specific recommendations.
Ways of improving heat retention and insulation
- Install quality insulation;
- Seal air leaks;
- Upgrade windows and doors;
- Add thermal curtains or blinds;
- Upgrade HVAC systems;
- Use draft excluders;
- Seal ductwork;
- Use thermal mass;
- Implement zoning and programmable thermostats;
- Conduct an energy audit.
By implementing these strategies, you can significantly enhance insulation and heat retention in your property, making it more comfortable and energy-efficient while potentially reducing your energy bills.
Improving energy efficiency
Insulation and heat retention aren’t the only ways in which you can improve the energy efficiency of your chalet. Opting for energy-efficient appliances, installing solar panels and rainwater harvesting systems are also viable options.
Take a look at our guide to making your rental property more eco-friendly for more ideas:
2. Structural changes and reconfiguration
Structural changes could range from creating additional living space to completely gutting a space to change the layout.
Either way, expanding the usable area of your chalet is a valuable investment. Options include adding a mezzanine, converting a basement, constructing a garage, or extending the chalet itself. Of course, each choice depends on your specific needs, budget and target audience, but maximising the property’s potential is always a wise move.
Adding extra facilities
Extra facilities help your property stand out from the crowd, generating more bookings and maximising your profits. So, if your budget, space and plans allow – consider adding one or more of the following:
- A hot tub (the most popular facility amongst OVO Network guests);
- A sauna or steam room;
- An indoor or outdoor swimming pool;
- A home cinema;
- A games room;
- A wellness area where guests can have a massage;
- A gym or fitness studio.
Take a look at the following example from Chalet Le Mousqueton in La Clusaz, where the garage was converted into an impressive fitness studio complete with a weights bench, dumbbells, mirrors, exercise mats and a punching bag…
The owners even took the opportunity to transform an unused space into a relaxing wellness room, perfect for massages and treatments…
3. Cosmetic updates and finishes
Modernising the interior of your chalet doesn’t mean you have to completely change your style. You can still achieve a traditional style without your property feeling tired and old-fashioned.
You can do this by balancing the charm of a traditional chalet with modern design trends to create a cosy yet contemporary ambience. Select neutral colour palettes, incorporate natural materials like wood and stone, and invest in quality furnishings to achieve the perfect blend of comfort and style.
Take Chalet Goville, for example. This charming alpine property in La Giettaz retains a rustic farmhouse feel, without feeling but the decor and furnishings feel fresh and contemporary…
Incorporating some antique items can be a great way to add a touch of tradition, for example. However, guests should feel as though the property has been cared for and that you are committed to upgrading it regularly.
On the other hand, it’s also fine if you want to completely change the style of your property! But consistency is key! If you renovate a traditional alpine chalet into a luxury modern escape, then you need to stick with the theme throughout all of the spaces.
Here are some handy guides which will give you some inspiration:
- Traditional vs modern chalet decor
- Traditional chalet decoration: Top 10 furniture and decor essentials
- 9 traditional dining room ideas for your Alpine property
- Cosy living room ideas for a traditional chalet style
- Modern living room decor ideas
- 10 modern dining room ideas for your Alpine property
- 8 ways to bring Scandinavian style to your chalet
- Essential Chalet Interior Accessories
4. Enhancing outdoor areas
When it comes to renovation, make sure your outdoor spaces receive equal care and attention! These spaces are perfect for soaking in the breathtaking Alpine views during the warmer months and entertaining guests.
So, whether it’s a minor investment or a larger renovation project, make sure to factor your garden and outdoor areas into your project.
Here are some ideas of what you can add to enhance your outdoor spaces:
- A deck or patio where guests can relax or sunbathe;
- An outdoor kitchen with a BBQ or even a pizza oven
- Outdoor games and entertainment such as a pétanque court, swing set or trampoline;
- A hot tub or swimming pool.
Take inspiration from some OVO Network partner properties:
5. Installing smart home technology
Integrating smart home features can enhance convenience and security. Consider installing devices like smart thermostats, security systems and lighting controls which can be particularly useful when you’re not at the chalet.
Finding the right professionals for your renovation
Hiring an architect
Engaging a qualified architect is essential. They will create a detailed plan that aligns with your ideas and oversee the renovation process, ensuring it meets your expectations and complies with local regulations.
Choosing an interior designer
Working with an interior designer isn’t always essential, especially if you’re confident in your taste and style. However, if it’s within your budget, interior designers can help to elevate your space and execute your vision.
Selecting contractors and suppliers
Finding reliable contractors and suppliers with experience in Alpine renovations is crucial. Look for professionals who understand the unique challenges of working in mountainous terrain and can deliver quality craftsmanship.
Collaborating with local artisans
Working with local craftsmen and artisans can add a touch of authenticity to your chalet. They can help you incorporate traditional elements and materials that reflect the rich Alpine heritage.
Renovating your chalet in the Alps is a project that can transform your dream into reality. However, success in this endeavour hinges on thorough planning, budgeting, and working with experienced professionals.
With the right guidance, your chalet can become the ultimate mountain retreat, providing a sense of fulfilment and joy for years to come. Take the first steps towards renovating your Alpine chalet, and let the beauty of the mountains enhance your finished product!
At OVO Network, we support owners in all aspects of their business. Whether you’re in the early stages of renovation, or ready to list your property, we can help. From guest communication to marketing, revenue/booking management, photography and more – our experts can help turn your chalet business into a success.
Finally, don’t forget to sign up for our Industry Insider Newsletter and be the first to receive tips on running your holiday rental business, expert opinions and the latest industry news.
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