If you have a modern furnace, the answer might be ‘no.’ Here’s why:

When your furnace isn’t working, it can be hard to troubleshoot. You may want to immediately schedule a furnace repair with your local Denver HVAC company, but chances are your first instinct may be to check your pilot light because that’s what your dad did when you were younger. The fact is: you’re not going to find one on modern-day furnaces. Instead, you’ll find one of two different electric igniters that keep your furnace heating your home.

  • Intermittent Pilots
    Similar to traditional pilot lights, intermittent pilot lights come on automatically when the burner in your furnace needs to ignite. When the thermostat signals the need for heat, an electric control board in your furnace activates the igniter, turning on the pilot light and the burners. When the burners shut off at the end of the heating cycle, the pilot goes out as well. This reduces the amount of fuel you use when compared with an old-school pilot light, which burns constantly.

    Intermittent pilots are generally used in induced draft furnaces. These furnaces draw combustion gasses into the flue and the gasses are then lit by the burner.

  • Hot Surface Igniters
    Most modern furnaces have hot surface igniters. These igniters function similarly to a light bulb. An electric current passes through the igniter, which is made from silicon nitride or silicon carbide, making the surface red hot after your thermostat signals the need for heat in your home. This causes the gas valve to open up, sending gas to the burner, and lighting it.

    Hot surface igniters generally last 3-5 years before needing to be replaced. You can check to see if the igniter is working by looking through the louvers on the front cover or your furnace. Igniters glow brightly, so if you don’t see any light, then there’s likely something wrong.

  • The Pros of Electric Furnace Igniters
    Electric systems are more energy-efficient than standing pilot lights. Standing pilot lights burn all the time, which means they’re constantly using gas to stay lit. They waste an average of 4 to 5 terms of energy or $4 to $5 per month. They also have to be re-lit when they go out, which means you may be without heat if you don’t realize there’s a problem immediately or can’t identify what’s causing it to go out.

    However, electric igniters are not without some problems. These include replacement every few years, clogged air filters that cause the igniter to turn off early, an igniter that doesn’t match your furnace’s voltage, or a power surge.

  • Diagnosing Electric Igniter Issues
    Here are some “symptoms you” may experience that indicate a faulty igniter:
    • Limited heat. A faulty igniter won’t light the burner in your furnace. This limits the amount of heat it can produce, resulting in a colder home.
    • Frequent cycling. If your igniter doesn’t light the burner on the first try, your thermostat will send a message to your furnace to constantly start and stop the heating cycle. This causes excessive wear and tear on your system and wastes energy.
    • Overactive blower. A faulty limiting switch may turn your igniter off and keep your blower running even after your burner is no longer heating.

If you notice any of these problems, you may want to look for common problems, such as a tripped circuit breaker or dirty air filters, that may be easily solved. You will also want to consult your furnace manual to find instructions on how to reset the igniter. Most furnaces require you to find and press your furnace’s ignition button and a smaller red button simultaneously to re-ignite the pilot light.

If these simple solutions don’t work, call a professional HVAC technician to troubleshoot any larger malfunctions in your furnace. If you are experiencing ignition issues with your furnace, call Summit Heating, A/C, Plumbing & Electrical today, and someone from our team will be out to help you shortly.

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