Construction & Design

Heating your Alpine chalet – stove or fireplace?

If you own an Alpine chalet, you’ll be aware of the challenge of heating a property in a very cold climate. Therefore, you may be wondering what heating system is best for your home. But – in addition to an efficient system, you might also want to provide an aesthetic solution in keeping with your deco style.

There are many possibilities, all of which have their advantages and disadvantages. Have a look at our detailed guide on heating your chalet if you’re still deciding.

Among these options are fireplaces and stoves, which are an iconic part of Alpine style. However, although they may look similar, they differ in a number of respects, including efficiency, use, operation and budget. In this article, we give you all the information you need to make your choice.

Stove or fireplace – what is the difference?

All fireplaces are based on the same principle: they are a place to burn fuel in an open or closed space, usually built into a wall.

A traditional means of providing heat, the fireplace’s rustic and cosy feel creates a charming and cosy atmosphere.

It can also adapt to different interiors – modern, Scandinavian, traditional, etc. The main difference between them comes from the type of fuel used: wood (logs or pellets), electricity or gas. It should be noted that a wood-burning fireplace will need a flue installed by a professional.

A fireplace is set into the wall in this living room in Chalet Behansa, with a huge sofa and doors on to a balcony
A fireplace fits in perfectly in this living room at Chalet Behansa, in Les Gets.

Stoves are more modern than fireplaces. They use a combustion chamber for wood, gas, oil or fuel oil, which then transmits to the room, either by thermal radiation or by convection. Some models can also heat water. Less traditional than fireplaces, stoves are generally more economical and more efficient.

Which is best for your heating system?

The efficiency of a heating system is perhaps the most important factor for ensuring good value for money and optimal thermal comfort.

Efficiency is the amount of heat produced in relation to the energy used. Expressed as a percentage, often over a period of a year, it tells the owner about the system’s performance.

The higher the efficiency, the less energy is lost. It varies according to the type of stove or fireplace and the type of fuel.

A modern circular wood-burning stove in the living room of Chalet Ysopi
Chalet Ysopi in Saint-Jean-de-Sixt uses an enclosed wood-burning stove

The argument for fireplaces

Wood-burning fireplaces are authentic and offer classic mountain charm. Their efficiency varies considerably between open fireplaces, which rarely reach 20%, and closed fireplaces which can exceed 80%.

The lower the efficiency, the more fuel is needed. Thus, open fireplaces require a lot of wood or pellets for little heat output. The best option is a traditional fireplace with a closed hearth that uses pellets, which are more environmentally friendly.

Good to know: It is possible to modify an existing fireplace by adding an insert to create a closed fireplace, increasing efficiency. 

Please be aware that in some areas of France, open fireplaces have been banned. Always check with your local préfecture to find out about potential restrictions in your local area.

Traditional open fireplaces with a stone hearth and wooden chimney breast give Alpine properties authentic charm, as here at Authentic Lodge Spa in La Clusaz

Electric fireplaces are primarily decorative and serve as supplementary heating sources. They reproduce the look of a real fire, but without the typical smell of wood and the sound of crackling flames. They are easier to install as they only require an electrical supply.

Gas fireplaces imitate a wood fire in much the same way. Connected to a mains gas or propane tank, installation is relatively easy, as is operation.

With an efficiency of over 80% for the most efficient models, it can heat one or two rooms. Its biggest disadvantage is its cost to buy, and the cost of running it with gas. This can vary, particularly because of the fuel used, which is affected by inflation.

In favour of stoves

The wood-burning stove (logs or pellets) is the most ecological solution and has an output close to that of a closed fireplace.

Wood stoves need a connection to a flue and should be installed by a professional. Wood has to be stored outside and protected, so this is an additional cost and takes up space. Pellets are supplied in 10-15kg bags, which are less cumbersome and a more efficient solution.

Please note: Pellet stoves are not authorised in all areas of France. Please check the regulations in your area.

Masonry stoves are more contemporary and work on a stored heat diffusion system. The stove accumulates and stores heat when the fuel is burning, and slowly releases it once the fire is out.

For example, after a two-hour fire, the stove can release heat for up to 24 hours. One fire a day is therefore enough to heat your home. Its efficiency exceeds 90%.

However, it needs annual maintenance and substantial wood storage. In addition, it cannot be removed and weighs between 900kg and six tonnes, so it’s not suitable for every property.

Good to know: When you install a masonry stove, you can benefit from 7% VAT and a tax credit.

A cylindrical log burner at Lodge La Source
This industrial-looking wood burner originated in Canada. Located at Lodge La Source in Les Clefs, it blows out the hot air it produces.

Gas stoves are equivalent to fireplaces. They heat well over a long period of time, requiring no refilling and little storage. The need for a flue depends on the model. However, like fireplaces, gas stoves are not very environmentally friendly and the price can vary significantly depending on the model, size and materials.

Both oil and paraffin stoves benefit from being very powerful and quick to heat. Oil has an efficiency of 100% in modern models, while older models can achieve an efficiency of 70-75%.

However, burning oil can produce unpleasant smells, particularly when igniting the fire, and there are greater risks, such as poisoning or burns. In addition, both oil and fuel oils are expensive and harmful to the environment.

What is the right choice for your chalet?

A wood fire burns in the corner fireplace at Chalet Xanadu
This enclosed corner fireplace in Chalet Xanadu in Morzine is an integral part of this cosy living room

The choice of a heating system depends very much on the space you have available in your chalet and the style you want to create.

Most fireplaces come in standard sizes ranging from 55-89cm. However, extra large and compact fireplaces are available, as well as corner fireplaces, which can be made to measure by professionals. The location depends on where you have flues or vents.

In general, stoves are best suited to small spaces and warm, cosy environments. There are four categories: small, medium, large and extra large.

As an indication, a small stove heats less than 150 square metres, a medium one up to 300 square metres and a large one up to 670 square metres.

What can you spend on your stove or fireplace?

Your budget depends very much on your choice of stove or fireplace, and on your choice of model. Here’s a rough guide to what you might spend:

  • Open fireplace: 500€ to more than 5,000€
  • Enclosed fireplace: 1,000€ to more than 5 000€
  • Fire insert: 500€ to more than 3 000€
  • Gas fireplace: 1,000€ to more than 3 000€
  • Electric fireplace: 100€ to more than 2,000€
  • Classic woodburning stove: 400 to 5,000€ ;
  • Pellet stove: 1,500 to 5,000€
  • Masonry wood stove: 3,000 to 15,000€
  • Petrol stove: 100 to 1,000€
  • Oil stove: 200 to 1,000€
  • Gas stove 100 to 500€

You’ll need to consider installation costs when totalling the price of your stove or fireplace.

Budget for 500-1,500€ for a fireplace and up to 3,000€ if you also have to install a flue.

The extra work to install a stove and connect it to the various rooms in the house can cost up to 3,000€, depending on the property.

Maintenance requirements

When it comes to maintenance, the requirements are similar for the stove and the fireplace.

Firstly, (French) law requires that your chimney is swept professionally twice a year. You can find out more about this when you install the stove and sign a maintenance contract with a professional.

Some manufacturers also offer to take care of maintenance, which makes it easier to organise and plan for the future. This is the case with Alpes Feux, a company that builds, installs and maintains stoves and fireplaces of all kinds.

A fire burns in a modern corner fireplace with a built-in space for wood storage
This enclosed corner fireplace is built into the wall and has a place for wood storage © Alpes Feux

You should also consider routine maintenance, including ash removal and glass cleaning – you need to be able to see the fire! Finally, you also need to transport wood from its storage to the heating system.

Both fireplaces and stoves have the same purpose – to heat a home with an aesthetic and cosy feel.

Your choice will be influenced by performance, budget and the space you have available, as well as the style of your property.

In general, it’s important to keep the interior of your chalet consistent, creating harmony between rooms and styles. Check out our constructions and design archives for more information.

Subscribe to our Monthly Newsletter

Insights on running a holiday rental property, expert opinions and the latest industry news all sent straight to your inbox