4 hour burns isn't good, but 6 with softwoods isn't that out of line. I get 9 or 10 hours with hardwoods. A block off plate would help a lot I think, look back in this post for my example of how I did it. There are plenty of other threads too. When it's 20F or colder I put the blower on high in order to adequately heat the house. Have you tried the blower on high when it's colder? For the smoke, when reloading you open the air up all the way, open the bypass, wait a few seconds, open the door just a crack, wait a few seconds, then open the door slowly. Let us know if you still get smoke with this method.