Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

No smoking in the house!

We both don’t smoke. The majority of our friends don’t smoke and, if they do, they usually go out on the balcony.

So what am I talking about?

The apartment has a fireplace, which my fiancé used as a selling point to move here. Even our landlords downstairs told me they wished THEY had a fireplace like ours. I didn’t like this house and was skeptical of all the enthusiasm.

For starters, the fireplace is painted orange. But the kicker is the flue doesn’t close; it’s not even an option because there isn’t one. As a result, there’s a light but steady breeze blowing through the living room most days; on windy days, it’s worse. My observations were duly noted, but ignored.

My fiancé was convinced it would be warmer and more economical than petrol if we burned some wood so, after stating my objection to burning trees, I humored him and watched him start a fire. For a man who last built a fire in the army more than a decade ago, I was impressed with his flair for fotia. But kudos quickly turned to complaint as the house filled with smoke and sent me gasping for air. The smoke wasn’t going up the chimney, the wind was blowing it back into the house!

I ran through the house to close off the bedroom doors, kitchen and bathroom, while my fiancé hoped the smoke would dissipate and leave us in cozy comfort. I could see the look of determination on his face…or was it stubborn pride? Pleas to put out the fire were (you guessed it) duly noted, but ignored. It was going to be warm, dammit!

After three hours of futility in which I sat silent, we were no warmer, although the smell of burnt wood lasted a good four or five days during which I froze my a$$ off to air out the house, then washed every linen and shred of clothing.

The fireplace is now sealed off and retired, but if I ever want to feel like a smoked salmon again, at least I know I have that option. 😉

Related posts

One apartment, hold the mold
Cockroaches and courthouses, landlords and leases
Facing the cold with fire” — DW

Photo from


* If RB is reading this post, may I coax you to tell your fireplace story? Cheryl also has a post called, “Asphyxiation by fireplace”; everyone can find her on my Blog Worship list.
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  The Scorpion wrote @ January 20th, 2008 at 10:23

I often wonder if Greek homes are built to proper code (OR IS THERE EVEN A CODE HERE) because you have a lot of independent contractors and homeowners themselves designing and building their homes.

In my area of California the norm is that people buy houses that are “ready to go” and built to code by reputable firms (with a few exceptions).

So my question is, could the fireplace in your apartment have been an afterthought of your Greek landlord?

Further, the few friends of ours who own a fireplace don’t seem to take fire safety seriously. Many times I see their fireplace wide open and a very inviting trip hazard saying “Come on in” for their toddler children. When I’ve mentioned that maybe it’s dangerous for the little ones, I get the Greek salute of “Don’t worry” while little ones scurry around the fireplace unchallenged. Even more frightening is how they have placed a furry rug and sofa almost adjacent to the fireplace which seems to be just itching to invite the fire dept to make a visit to their house.

  FMS wrote @ January 20th, 2008 at 12:08

I don’t know much about it, but I do know from the UK that the design of a chimney has to suit its local environment and may even have to be individually tailored to each house. The crucial test is empirical: is the updraught to take the smoke out of the fireplace strong enough and resistant to localised wind changes etc.

The Greek approach to building regulation seems very theoretical to me, which means that they probably build these chimneys to specifications and never test them. Worse still, if you were to complain, they would probably tell you that the chimney is perfect, that you are imagining problems, etc etc etc.

Solutions? (1) Don’t use fireplaces. (2) Pay a professional chimney expert to check and modify your chimney [probably a cowel on the top is needed; maybe more]

  EllasDevil wrote @ January 20th, 2008 at 13:55

I have a fireplace in my place which I decided to use for the first time when the weather got cold (I moved in during summer). I had a similar result to yourselves… initial delight at actually managing to light a fire (by spraying flammable liquid onto the newspaper, sticks and wood in the hope that on the 38th attempt, it would actually light) were soon replaced by the thought of “oh my brand new walls and ceiling is being covered in black smoke”.

It turned out that I had to stick the fire poker up the chimney to open a cover. Yes… my chimney has a cover on it so it can be closed when not in use.

I just wish someone had told me that before I came up with the bright idea of lighting it.

  Kat wrote @ January 20th, 2008 at 14:31

S – To answer your question, it’s hard to tell. I never saw the fireplace as a workable or positive aspect of this apartment, and I don’t want to possibly anger the landlords by asking if it was an addition or planned element because follow-up questions will inevitably follow.

I’m assuming there is no code or architect necessary to comply with regulations regarding fireplaces or buildings. If there is, every house I’ve ever lived in over 10 years appears lacking; and I’m talking about brand new homes as well. We have a friend who is Greek-American, and he follows the American way of design and constructing homes. This may explain why he’s working 16 hours a day, on the phone constantly and, may I add, filthy rich. If we had intentions of buying here (we don’t), he said he would oversee the building of our home.

I’ll ask him and re-post either here or another article. For now, I’ve got to jump off because our OTE connection could drop any second…that’s another story altogether.

M – I would consider investing the money to fix it IF it were my house; it’s built incorrectly if the smoke doesn’t go up. But as it is, we’ve already made a number of repairs and haven’t been reimbursed — doorbell, windows, doors, kitchen cabinets, bathroom. When the landlords were “selling” me on the fireplace and sounding envious, they happened to mention that previous tenants used it all the time, even for cooking. Yet, the thing is absolutely spotless, and I was suspicious. I know better than to even bring up the subject of the flue, unless I want a lecture about how I don’t know how things work here — me, a former girl scout, experienced camper and fireplace user in the USA and Sweden. At least it’s a lovely shade of…errr, bright orange. 🙂

ED – Someone could have told you if you’d asked? Maybe the person who built it or your parents. At least you have a cover (flue) and aren’t gone with the wind. Lucky you! Is it warmer when you use it or is it just a cozy element? P.S. LOL, 38th attempt.

  Cheryl wrote @ January 20th, 2008 at 14:33

I completely empathize. It’s funny, I have a fireplace in my other house in Milwaukee and we never had any problems with smoke in the house. Lucky? Maybe. We both felt so inadequate but then discovered the doors that we could shut as the fire kept burning. “Ah Hah! That’s what those are for! ” We haven’t had smoke in the house since and we haven’t had to close those doors.
We’re burning wood daily to save on petrol since it’s so expensive. Oh, and we’re burning all of the wood left from last year’s pruning. We’ll be pruning the trees again soon so we’ll have wood for next winter. It’s kind of nice to not have to take trees unnecessarily:)

  FMS wrote @ January 20th, 2008 at 15:37

Ermm, I don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but isn’t it illegal to burn wood in Athens? Because of environmental regulations? Maybe it’s just another of those meaningless rules…

  rosetta wrote @ January 20th, 2008 at 20:50

I’m reading your post and I will write about our fireplace mishap soon. I’m not as good a story teller as you are though. Closing yours up was probably a good idea…ciao

  photene wrote @ January 21st, 2008 at 03:09

Though not funny to live through – it was funny to read. EVERY man regardless of ethnicity or national origin believes that his ability to build or control FOTIA is in his DNA from the days he chased wooly mammoths over the plains. Painted Orange??? maybe that’s what’s supposed to keep you warm….

  graffic wrote @ January 21st, 2008 at 07:44

In the house of my gf, the fireplace has been fixed. It doesn’t get cold air from above, so I guess there is some kind of “door” blocking the smoke vent.

Thanks for the advice. I’ll check that problem before starting my “everything in the house burns” mania.

But I’ve never been a fireplace like that one where the smoke doesn’t go out and you can feel the cold air.

Good luck with the fixes. And remember that good smoked salmon is expensive (you can save some euro-bucks). 😉

  Stathis wrote @ January 21st, 2008 at 10:00

From what i’m reading the fireplace was a hoax all along… Only used as a selling point for the house. And it worked.

  GP wrote @ January 21st, 2008 at 14:22

Funny – seems like everyone here experiences the same thing with the tzaki. What a smokey mess… I gave up long ago. Put a nice arrangement of pillar candles in the tzaki – you get the same effect – a nice comfy romantic glow without the smoke, soot, ash and mess….

  Kat wrote @ January 21st, 2008 at 17:04

C – My experience in using USA and SE houses is there’s a lever to open and close the flue from inside the house, but most people I know in GR have to go up to the roof and open/close the flue manually. My fiance didn’t even know such thing existed. I also think it’s good to burn things that are already “waste” material, not wood that was cut for purchase.

M – I couldn’t find anything that says we can’t burn wood, but even if there were, I doubt it’d be enforced. There is, however, a regulation that says we can’t cut down trees in Athens, and people do it anyway because they’re too cheap to buy firewood. Ironically, they usually cut down trees with wood that isn’t good for burning.

R – I think you’re a great storyteller!

P – LOL! Yes, just looking at the color orange is annoying me, which I suppose raises my temperature a bit. And when I was watching him make the fire, I also had that picture in my head with the cave.

G – LMAO! You can’t imagine how hard I laughed at your last sentence. Yes, I could start a business 😀

S – Well yes, someone fell for it. But not me, I never believe the hype. I stated my objections, but he was so in love with the idea, he didn’t listen and told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. It’s a constant struggle on many subjects in this house. He only comes to agree with me if he either hears the same thing from a male friend of his OR I let the situation play out and some consequence befalls him (or us), and then he realizes it on his own because it’s undeniable.

GP – I think the mistake most of us made is being sensible (silly us), thinking it was ready to go when it either needed explanation or simply wasn’t built to be a fireplace. Everyone is describing their first time (not describing a saga spanning years) and no one here is using it for ambient atmosphere, so your comment and suggestion make no sense; it’s being used to save on petrol or as a supplementary heat source since most houses are built so poorly.

  Theresa wrote @ September 25th, 2008 at 02:36

We live in a townhouse complex in Surrey B.C. Canada and have our chimneys cleaned every year, I have a fire going now and the whole place smells of smoke.I have the front and the back window opened a crack for air flow.Not working and it’s killing my allergies. What else do I do besides turning up the heat and paying for electric heat? Any answers?

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