If you rely on a gas water heater, then your pilot light may go out from time to time. Understanding what this pilot light does and how to relight it is necessary for all homeowners. This way, instead of having to always rely on calling in a professional, you can easily relight your own pilot light.

What is a Pilot Light?

A pilot light is a very small flame in your water heater that works to ignite its much-larger gas burner. In open combustion chamber water heaters, this pilot light stays on around the clock in preparation for lighting the gas burner when necessary. Whenever this light goes out, the water in your hot water tank will start to cool. It won’t take long before you notice that you have no hot water.

Why Did My Pilot Light Go Out?

One of the most common reasons that a pilot light will go out on a water heater is due to a draft or poor ventilation. It only takes one gust of wind to extinguish the light and cause your home to lose hot water. When you first notice that your home doesn’t have any hot water, it’s imperative that you check the pilot light to see if it’s been extinguished.

Open Up the Access Door

Located near the bottom of your water heater will be an access panel. You’ll want to open that up. Some are held in by screws, while others are simply compression fit and can be pulled up and out. Once you remove the access door, you’ll have direct access to the burner and pilot light assembly.

If you don’t see an access door, but you do see a glass square, then you have a sealed combustion chamber. With this type of water heater, you don’t need a lighter for your water heater as it already has an electric igniter. You can verify this by locating an ignitor button on the top of the knob assembly for the pilot light.

It’s a good safety rule to turn the knob on the pilot light assembly to the OFF position for a solid 60 seconds. This will help to ensure that any leftover gas near the pilot light assembly is able to properly dissipate into the air before you attempt to use a flame to relight the pilot light.

Ignite the Burner

If you have a sealed combustion chamber, then lighting the burner is all done from the controls. You’ll want to turn the knob at the pilot light assembly to the PILOT position. Hold the knob down to allow the gas to flow freely to the burner. Next, push down on the ignitor button, which is usually black or red and sits on top of the assembly.

If you have an open combustion chamber, then you’ll need a long matchstick or a grill lighter to manually light the burner. You’ll want to turn the knob to the PILOT position and push down on it to allow gas to flow to the burner. Next, manually light the burner, making sure that you keep your hands well away from the actual burner.

Switch to the ON Setting

Once the flame is lit, you’ll want to continue to hold down on the knob in the PILOT position for about one minute. This will ensure that the flame stays well-lit. In most cases, the flame should go from a dull orange or yellow color to a clear blue.

Once a minute has gone by, go ahead and turn the knob to the ON position. If your burner is still lit, then it’s time to close the access panel. You never want to leave the access panel open as this can allow any breeze to penetrate the flame and likely extinguish it.

What If My Pilot Light Keeps Going Out?

If you’ve tried to relight your pilot light and it keeps going out. There can be a number of reasons. Before proceeding, be sure that you check your fuel to ensure that its adequately being supplied to your water heater. If your other gas appliances aren’t working, it’s likely a gas supply issue and not anything with the water heater itself.

If you have a steady supply of gas, then it’s time to start looking at the various components of your water heater to determine what the actual culprit is. The most common reasons that a pilot light will continually go out on a water heater include:

  • Thermocouple issue
  • Dirty pilot tube
  • Faulty main control valve
  • Malfunctioning burner
  • Flextube error

Assessing Your Thermocouple

Probably the biggest reason that water heater pilot lights go out is due to a thermocouple issue. There are three main issues that can occur. It can be obstructed, kinked, or faulty. Your thermocouple is an imperative part of your water heater whose job it is to sense whether or not your pilot light is lit. If it senses that there’s no pilot flame, your thermocouple will turn off your gas supply as a safety precaution.

This is great for times when your pilot light goes out, but it can be annoying when your thermocouple is the root problem. Start by checking to see if there is any soot or other debris on the thermocouple rod. If so, clean it off and try relighting your pilot light.

If the rod is bent, it will be unable to properly sense the flame. You’ll want to rebend it back into position with a pair of pliers if possible. If that thermocouple rod isn’t bent or covered in soot, then it may just need to be replaced with a new one.

Dirty Pilot Tube

Another cause of a pilot light constantly going out is a dirty pilot tube. The orifice where the gas supply comes into your burner can become clogged with soot or other debris. It’s best to turn off the gas supply and check the tip of the orifice to see if it needs to be cleared of debris.

Flextube error

An obvious issue to locate is a flextube error. The gas tube running into your water heater is flexible. This is great for helping to reach your water heater. However, it can obstruct the flow of gas whenever the flextube becomes kinked or dented. If you’ve been moving things around your water heater, check your flextube to see if you accidentally kinked it.

Malfunctioning Burner / Faulty Main Control Valve

If you’ve ruled out all other potential issues with your water heater, then the culprit is likely one of the bigger components. These are the pilot burner itself or the main control valve. While it’s possible to replace these parts, it’s best to stop and call in a professional. They can be costly to replace, so you want to ensure that you’re only replacing parts that are indeed malfunctioning.

Professional Water Heater Service

Summit Heating & A/C provides professional water heater repair and install for the whole Denver, CO community. We can also help with all of your heating, plumbing, air quality, and mini-split needs. Call us today to schedule your next service appointment.

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