February 12, 2021

water heater pilot light

At this time of the year, one of the worst things that can happen is your water heater not producing hot water. In this case, the culprit will be your pilot light not working. Let us discuss then what is it and how to fix it.

What is a pilot light and what is it for:

A pilot light is a small fire that is used to ignite the burner of gas and propane-fueled water heaters. This small flame should stay lit at all times.

If the pilot flame goes out, the burner won’t be able to ignite and it won’t be able to heat the water. The first sign that your pilot light is out is if you don’t have hot water.

What causes your pilot light to be out?

While the pilot light of your propane or gas water heater should be lit at all times, it is not unusual for your pilot light to be extinguished. There are a couple of reasons why the pilot light has gone out.

  1. There is a natural change in gas pressure inside the burner that extinguished the flame
  2. If your combustion chamber is not sealed, any burst of air will extinguish the pilot light
  3. Flame requires oxygen. If your gas water heater tank is located in an area where there is no air, or there is a restriction in the airflow, it will cause back-drafting which will extinguish the pilot flame.
  4. If your pilot light can’t stay lit, then you may have a faulty thermocouple or thermopile. A thermocouple/thermopile is a sensor that is responsible for closing the gas valve when not in use to avoid gas from leaking out. This is a safety feature of propane or gas water heater.
  5. When the temperature in the combustion chamber becomes too high, it will trip the thermal cutoff switch which will close the gas valve.

Is it dangerous if the pilot light goes out?

Most of the time, when the pilot flame is out, it isn’t anything serious. Gas water heaters have thermocouples or thermopiles to make sure that when the light is out, unused gas will not leak. You just need to re-lit the flame and you are done.

However, it is dangerous if you smell gas. Just like any other type of gas leak, don’t try to do this yourself. Better call a professional to have your water heater repaired.  

How will I relight the pilot?

Instructions differ depending on the make or model of the water heater. Modern water heaters have an ignition button that will light a pilot burner. Old-school burners don’t have this. Therefore the pilot needs to be manually ignited using a barbecue or grill lighter.

Listed below are instructions on how to ignite or re-ignite a water heater’s pilot light.

How do you light a water heater with an electronic pilot?

Most electronic water heaters have a small ignition switch in addition to the control knob. The objective is to feed electricity to the pilot burner and give it a bit of spark to relight the pilot.

  1. On the gas control panel, turn the gas control knob to the “off” position and wait for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the instructions or make of the water heater. Turning it off will close the gas supply. This is to make sure the unused gas dissipates.
  2. Put the access panel aside to expose the burner compartment. For newer models, there would be a viewing window where you can see your pilot.
  3. Lower your temperature down to zero
  4. When you are ready to light the pilot light, turn the knob to the “PILOT” position. Press and hold the pilot button down and then push the ignition button. Holding the pilot down will let a flow of gas in the main burner.

For modern electronic gas burners like Honeywell, you may need to press the ignition switch multiple times while pressing the PILOT knob down for about a minute or so, or until you see the status light blinks.

Can you manually light a water heater pilot?

If your heater does not have an ignition switch, you will have the manually light the pilot flame with the use of a barbeque or grill lighter. In this case, turn the gas control valve to the off position and wait for 5 to 10 minutes before doing the next steps.

  1. Remove the 2nd cover to expose the burner and the pilot light
  2. With your lighter on hand, ignite and position the flame on top of the pilot
  3. When you are ready, turn the knob to “PILOT” and push and hold it down.

How do you know if you have a bad thermocouple and how to replace one?

When your power light keeps on turning off, that may be a sign that you have a thermocouple problem. To replace your thermocouple, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your gas line (not enough that you turn off the switch). Cut the supply of gas from the tube to the water heater
  2. Locate your thermocouple. It is a line or wire (usually copper) that goes from the gas valve to the burner
  3. Remove the thermocouple by un-screwing the line from the gas valve and burner. If you could easily remove the thermocouple from the burner, that’s great. However, if your thermocouple is screwed tightly, or is soldered to your burner, call a professional to have the thermocouple replaced.
  4. Replace your old thermocouple with a new one and screw it in place.

Once everything has been done, your water heater should work and you should be able to set your desired temperature.

Call Better Home Service for all your Plumbing and Water Heater Problems

When you’ve done all of the steps above and still could not make your water heater tank work, it’s time to call the professionals.

With decades of experience, we at Better Home Service will ensure that your heater tank and plumbing are all in good and working condition. Our experts will do system checks and maintenance to ensure that you are getting the most out of your water heating system.

We are available 24/7 for all your Plumbing and HVAC needs and are ready to service any kind of model. Call us now!

Other issues?

Do you have frozen pipes? Read our article about how to deal with them.

Does your water smell like rotten eggs when you turn the water heater on? you may have a problem with Hydrogen Sulfide. Read more about it here.

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