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Pilot light trouble is inconvenient for any household. For most homes, it means not having a hot water supply, and for houses with older furnaces, it will mean disrupted home heating. While pilot lights could get turned off once in a while, it is surely not normal for them to keep going out.

This article will discuss the possible reasons why a pilot light does not stay on for much longer, and the effective ways to fix it. But first, what is a pilot light, and what is it for?

What is a pilot light?

To fully understand why a pilot light would suddenly turn off, and would not stay ignited, it is best to understand first its main function in a water heater, or a furnace.

A pilot light holds a burning flame that is used to ignite the furnace or water heater’s burner. Without it, the heating process will not start, and everyone will say hello to cold showers, and a chilly house.

So when the water heater is turned on or the furnace is needed to provide warmth, the heating mechanism’s main burner releases gas, and the pilot light’s flame will ignite this. This will in turn heat the main burner, and the air or water that is in there will now be warm and ready to be distributed throughout the various faucets or air registers in the house.

What appliances need pilot lights?

Two main home appliances utilize pilot lights inside the house. Foremost of which is the water heater. Water heaters need an open flame inside the pilot light to make the water supply hot. Boilers and older furnaces also rely on pilot lights to heat the air that it supplies throughout the house. Gas fireplaces also utilize pilot lights to start lighting up the indoor pit.

Newer versions of the above-mentioned appliances now utilize a spark igniter or a hot surface igniter instead of a pilot light.

Pilot lights and heating

The pilot light is how you light a furnace, and its one of the first things a homeowner should check when there is suddenly no hot water supply, or if the heater fails to keep the whole house warm. While it seems like a minuscule flame, this pilot light is responsible for ensuring that warmth is distributed throughout all the taps and showers in the house. In the case of older homes, this small flame also ensures that the whole house stays warm. 

Water heater and the pilot light

The pilot light of a water heater is usually located inside the access panel of a gas-powered water heater. This access panel is commonly located beneath the thermostat. Homeowners should never try dismantling this piece, and instead, seek professional help if the pilot light keeps going off. If your are having an issue with why your furnace won’t turn on then you should read a aforementioned piece.

What makes a water heater pilot light go out?

There are several reasons why a water heater’s pilot light would go off. In this section, all these reasons will be rounded up and discussed to pave the way for a homeowner’s better understanding of the issue.

Faulty thermocouple. A malfunctioning thermocouple can affect the pilot light. It is a copper rod that acts as a safety feature that will turn off the gas supply the moment it detects that the pilot light is dead. But like any mechanism, it is also subject to wear and tear. It could get damaged, bent, covered in dirt, get out of its position, or get coated with carbon. When any of the aforementioned things occur, the thermocouple will fail, and it will incorrectly sense the pilot light. When it fails to accurately do its role, the heater could malfunction. 

The pilot light is covered with dust and filth. When the pilot light’s cover becomes filthy, its flame would not last. It would keep getting extinguished and would not be able to hold a flame. Since the gunk and dirt give way to weaker flame, this flame is more likely to get blown out. So, if the orifice is dirty, then expect an easily extinguishable pilot light.

A strong breeze can blow out the pilot light. Sometimes drafts from an opened window or excessive wind flow could blow out the flame of the pilot light. If this is the case, then there is no critical issue, and the flame can be safely relighted.

Twisted flex tube. If there are kinks or unwanted twists within the flex tube, then the pilot light can repeatedly turn off. The flex tube acts as a supplier of fuel to the water heater’s gas controller. If there is a problem with the flex tube then the pilot light will incur performance issues as well.

How to relight a gas-water heater’s pilot light?

One of the first things a homeowner would want to attempt upon discovering an extinguished pilot light is to re-light its flame. Below are some of the ways to safely re-ignite the pilot light.

  1. Get the water heater manual and thoroughly read instructions on how to go about relighting the pilot light.
  2. Dial down the thermostat. Adjust the water heater’s thermostat at the lowest setting, or better yet turn it off.
  3. Turn off the gas supply for the water heater. After turning off the water heater through its thermostat or switch, the next step is to shut off its gas supply. The gas supply valve is usually in the base of the water heater itself. Once the gas supply is turned off, wait for five to ten minutes to allow the remaining gas within the equipment to dissipate.
  4. Switch the water heater’s gas control valve setting to pilot. Make sure that the word “pilot” is at the center when the gas control valve is turned.
  5. Hold the reset button down for a few seconds in accordance with the manual. Make sure to press the correct button. The reset button is usually red and is positioned next to the gas control valve. Consult the owner’s manual to avoid mistakes in carrying out this step.
  6. Press the water heater’s igniter while holding down its reset button. The igniter is usually next to the gas valve. Simultaneously press these two buttons down for at least 25 to 30 seconds, A blue flame should appear within this time range at the gas window.
  7. Continue holding down the reset button. Once a blue flame appears, let go of the igniter button, but keep holding down the reset button. Keep pressing this button for about 25 to 30 seconds more.
  8. Turn the gas control valve to the on position. After re-lighting the pilot light, it is now time to turn the gas valve on once again. Make sure that the word “On” is in the center slot of the valve dial.
  9. Reset the thermostat to desired water temperature. Set the thermostat once again to the desired water temperature level, and get hot water running in the tap and showers once again.

If by chance the pilot light does not stay lighted, then it is best to call for professional water heater repair. Most plumbing companies offer water heater servicing, so call up a local professional. In San Diego, do not hesitate to get in touch with us at Reliable Standard Heating and Air.

But what if the water heater does not have a manual igniter?

It is also possible that a water heater does not have a manual igniter. We’ll also show you how to reset a furnace with the reset button. For this type of water heater, relighting the pilot flame will take a different approach. Check the step-by-step procedure below:

  1. Turn off the water heater through the thermostat or power switch.
  2. Shut off the gas valve, to cut the fuel supply to the water heater.
  3. Open the access panel. This is usually beneath the thermostat and can be opened using a wrench.
  4. Wait for five to 10 minutes to allow the remaining gas to fully disperse.
  5. Switch the gas valve to the pilot setting.
  6. Press the gas valve down, and use a long lighter to re-ignite the pilot light. Make sure to hold down the gas knob carefully, and never use smaller lighters for this purpose. A long lighter or a barbecue skewer can work.
  7. Wait for it to light up. This usually takes about 30 seconds. Once lit, stop holding down the reset button and turn the gas valve to its “on” position. By this time the main burner would be working and producing a faint noise as it goes back to work. After this hot water supply is restored, then set to desired water temperature.

Furnace Pilot Light: Where is it located and what does it do?

After discussing the functions of a pilot light in a water heater, it is now time to delve into furnace pilot lights. Older versions of home furnaces and boilers utilize a pilot light to ensure that the air is heated through as it is distributed around the house.

Like the pilot light in the water heater, the pilot light in a furnace is a constantly burning flame that ignites the gas as soon as the gas valve is opened. The heat produced will ensure that the air sucked up by the furnace system from indoors, becomes warm as it is redistributed throughout the house.

One of the first things to check when the furnace would not turn on is the pilot light. This step will help save time and effort in calling in the pros. If the light is extinguished, the furnace will surely not turn on. Any homeowner confident of understanding the furnace’s instruction manual can attempt to reignite the flame of the pilot light.

Locating the furnace’s pilot light

The pilot light of most furnaces that have it is next to the furnace’s gas line. Follow the gas line until a small tube appears from the gas valve towards the burner. Most gas valves would have an indicator that determines whether the pilot light is on or turned off.  The small tube will lead to the pilot light.

Why a furnace light would keep going off?

There are several possible reasons why a furnace’s pilot light would not say lighted. The following are some of the most common causes:

  • Dirty thermocouple. The thermocouple is one of the safety features of a furnace. It turns off the gas supply and extinguishes the flame of the pilot light once it senses possible danger in the furnace’s operation. Like the thermocouple of a water heater, a furnace’s thermocouple can also accumulate dirt and debris. When it is filled with filth, the thermocouple can falsely operate and shut off the gas valve and turn off the flame of the pilot light.
  • Faulty Thermocouple. The thermocouple can also malfunction. Most likely its failure is due to aging, normal wear, and tear, or lack of maintenance. There are also times when it is dislodged from its proper positioning. Once the thermocouple fails, it can induce false triggers in the system, which would consequently cause the shutting off of the gas supply and the extinguishing of the pilot light’s flame.
  • Dirty orifice. It is also possible that the pilot light could not stay lit because its opening is filthy. One of the clues here is a yellow instead of a blue flame. If the flame cannot correctly engulf the thermocouple, the safety mechanism will be triggered and the pilot light will be extinguished.  The best way to deal with this and prevent the issue from recurring is to ensure that the furnace is professionally tuned up at least once a year.
  • Failing gas regulator. If the household has two or more appliances that have a pilot light, and both or all of the appliances suffer from the same issue, then most likely the gas regulator within the property is malfunctioning. A failing gas regulator can prevent the pilot light from having enough fuel to continuously stay lit. Call for professional servicing to avoid further safety issues.  
  • Malfunctioning flue pipe. If the flue pipe is damaged, corroded, incorrectly connected to the furnace, cracked, or loose then it is likely that the pilot light will not stay lighted. The flame would get extinguished since wind can penetrate through the cracks and blow out the pilot light.
  • A strong wind or draft. It is also likely that a strong wind may have reached the furnace’s pilot light and consequently blew it out.

How to relight a furnace pilot light?

Below are the step-by-step instructions for re-igniting a furnace’s pilot light. While it is not a very easy task to carry out, especially for first-time homeowners, it is still a doable work that could save time, effort, and money. If the situation is only about a pilot light that got blown out or a pilot light that would not stay lit, it is still worth the effort to try to relight it before calling in the pros. It could just be a simple strong draft that caused it to get blown out. Check out the easy-to-follow procedure below:

  1. Check out the furnace’s manual. Reviewing the owner’s manual for the furnace is the most logical step to take before working on the equipment. While most traditional furnaces operate the same, some brands or models may have a slight difference when it comes to their inner workings.
  2. Determine the location of the pilot light using the furnace’s reference manual. Reaching the pilot light may call for the removal of the front panel in most furnaces.
  3. Again, using the manual, locate the gas valve. Shut off the gas valve for safety reasons, and make sure that the dial is pointed to the OFF position.
  4. Wait for five to ten minutes. After ensuring that the gas valve is shut off, wait for five to 10 minutes before proceeding to the next step so that the gas remaining in the system could get fully expelled. This waiting time is necessary since this is a safety step needed to avoid accidents.
  5. Turn the gas valve to “pilot” mode. Make sure that the waiting time for gas to be fully expelled has been observed. Only then should the valve be turned to pilot mode. Always remember that gas is volatile and could explode when it gets near an open fire.
  6. Hold down the reset button. The reset button is labeled as so and is usually positioned next to the gas valve. If it seems hard to find it then check out the manual for its exact location.
  7. Press down the igniter simultaneously. Make sure that the reset button is still held down. Once the flame is lit, release the hold on the igniter button, but continue pressing down on the reset button for at least 20 seconds more. If, however, the furnace does not come with a manual igniter, use a long lighter or a barbecue lighter to manually light the pilot light.
  8. Once the pilot light is safely lit, turn the gas valve to the “on” position. This will commence the heating process that will warm the whole house.

If after following the step-by-step procedure, the pilot light would not stay lit, then it is time to call in the professionals for a furnace repair service.

Boiler pilot light: Where is it located and what does it do?

Most boilers depend on a pilot light to keep them working. The pilot light is continuously aflame so that it could ignite the gas whenever the gas valve is opened. This will then keep the water boiling, and the heat that it produces will be distributed throughout the house.

Traditional boilers have pilot lights installed opposite the gas valve. To learn more about the specific boiler installed on one’s property, it is best to check out its reference manual. If you have a unit that is leaking water then read here on how to fix it.

Why a boiler pilot light would go out?

A boiler’s pilot light gets extinguished for several possible reasons. Below is a rundown on the possible causes and how to prevent it moving forward”

  • Failing or filthy thermocouple.  A failing or dirty thermocouple is one of the most common reasons why a pilot light would not stay lighted. The boiler’s thermocouple is a safety mechanism that automatically shuts off the gas valve and extinguishes the pilot flame once it detects an issue within the heating system. Once it fails or becomes filthy, it can incorrectly override the boiler’s operations for safety reasons. The best way to avoid this is to ensure that the thermocouple will not be saddled with dirt and debris and that it is replaced when it is worn out. Regular tuning up of the boiler will help avoid this issue. 
  • Dirty pilot opening. When the pilot light opening is dirty then it will have a hard time keeping its flame continuously burning. A yellow instead of a blue flame is indicative of this scenario. When the pilot light is out, the thermocouple then shuts off the gas valve, stopping the heating process altogether.
  • Failing gas regulator. If there are other appliances at home that also have problematic pilot lights, then chances are the home’s gas regulator is failing or weak. When the gas regulator is malfunctioning, it could not provide the needed fuel to keep the pilot light from burning continuously. Get in touch with a servicing company that could help out with the gas line to ensure everyone’s safety.
  • Strong wind. A strong draft can blow out the flame of a pilot light. If this is the case, then relighting the pilot light will easily solve the problem.

How to relight the boiler pilot light?

  1. Review the reference manual. The first and basic step to do before relighting the pilot light is to read and understand the boiler’s reference manual. While most traditional boilers are the same, there could be a possible variation in the locations of certain knobs or valves for each brand or boiler model.
  2. Turn off the boiler. Shutting down the power supply of the boiler ensures the safety of the whole relighting process.
  3. Shut off the gas supply towards the burner. Turn the gas valve to the OFF position.
  4. Wait for 10 minutes. One of the most crucial safety steps in relighting the pilot light is this ten-minute wait. The waiting time is meant to ensure that all the gas within the boiler’s pipe has been properly expelled and has dissipated into the air. Since gas is flammable, one should not take chances in igniting a flame.
  5. Open the boiler and find the pilot light. Lift or remove the access panel and locate the position of the pilot light. Usually, it is adjacent to the gas valve, but other models may have it elsewhere within the same area. If it seems hard to find the pilot light, then consult the owner’s manual as there is a specific page there that labels all the parts of the boiler.
  6. Adjust the gas valve to the “pilot” position. This is done by simply turning the knob.
  7. Press and hold the reset button. While holding it down, press the igniter button as well until a blue flame appears where the pilot light’s flame should be. Release the igniter button but continue pressing down the reset button for the next 25 to 30 seconds.
  8. Adjust the gas control valve to the “on” position. This is done by simply turning the knob to the “on” setting.

After the above-mentioned steps, the pilot light is now aflame, and the house will become warm once again. If, however, there is trouble in keeping the flame on, then it is time to call in an HVAC professional who can help. There might be other issues that are keeping the pilot continuously lit.

How to prevent the pilot light from getting blown out?

Keeping the boiler or furnace, and the water heater well-maintained is the best way to avoid issues with its pilot light. Ensure that an HVAC professional gets to inspect, assess, and tune up these heating systems to avoid issues that affect the overall comfort inside your home.

Stay warm and toasty over winter!

If despite doing all the step-by-step procedures in this article, the pilot light in your boiler, or if your heater is blowing cold air, or water heater still keeps on going out then give us a call at Reliable Standard Heating, Air, & Solar. We will be more than happy to assist you, and finally, put an end to your pilot light problems. Give us a call anytime, or schedule a visit using our online appointment platform. See you soon!

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