Our chimney and flue are lined with ceramic. I have loaded from the top and lit from the top, but to get it to catch, I have to leave the front door open when starting from scratch. Yes, when the fire is going, we shut the damper on the back left of the stove and (every once in a while) adjust the airflow (on the front right side) down a few notches, but not closed. Then open everything up before reloading from the top. We mix hard and soft wood. Once the fire is well established, it will run for hours. Not sure exactly, but certainly overnight, 10 hours+. On a weekly basis, we empty and vacuum the stove, and empty the ashes more often. Not sure what else I can give you. Basically, we know we need 4-6# of kindling to get the fire going, aiming for a big bed of coals for the first 1-2 hours. Then, we can focus on fire building.