The pilot light is one of the most important parts of a gas water heater. Its purpose is to ignite the gas flowing into the unit whenever it needs to reheat the water in the tank. Once the gas is ignited, the resultant flame transfers heat energy to the heat exchanger, which in turn heats the water inside the tank. If the pilot light isn't lit, the gas obviously can't ignite. In fact, no gas will flow to the unit at all if the pilot light is out. This is because the pilot light in all gas water heaters has an important safety feature known as a thermocouple. The thermocouple detects when the pilot light is on. If the pilot light is off, the thermocouple closes the valve to prevent gas from flowing into the unit to prevent a possible gas leak or explosion. Your water heater's pilot light can go out for a number of different reasons. When this happens, you'll need to relight the pilot before the unit can start to heat again. Luckily, relighting the pilot light on your water heater is a quick and easy task. Here is how it's done.
Determining What Type of Pilot Light Your Water Heater Has
Depending on the model of water heater you have, you may never need to worry about relighting the pilot light. Older water heaters always used a so-called standing pilot light, which is the only type that ever requires relighting. This type of pilot light has a constant flame, which automatically ignites the gas whenever the unit starts to heat. Some newer models still use standing pilot lights, but many have gone over to different ignition systems that don't require a constant flame. Many newer models have moved away from standing pilot lights and use an automatic or intermittent pilot light. This type of pilot light doesn't have a constant flame. Instead, the unit can automatically light the pilot on its own whenever it needs to turn on and heat water. If your unit has an intermittent pilot light, you won't ever see a flame except for when the unit is burning gas for heating. There are also some units that have a direct spark system, which eliminates the need for a pilot light altogether. Instead of using a standing or intermittent flame, these units simply produce a small spark that ignites the gas. Other models use a similar method known as hot-surface ignition. To ignite the gas, the unit heats a thin metal probe that looks similar to the filament in a light bulb. The probe is heated to an extremely high temperature and quickly gets red hot. After the probe is sufficiently hot, a valve opens to allow gas into the unit and the extreme heat from the probe instantly causes the gas to ignite. Determining whether your unit has a standing pilot light or another ignition method is simple. If there is a constant flame even when the unit isn't running, this means you have a standing pilot light that will need to be relit if it ever goes out. If you're still unsure, your water heater's owner's manual should tell you exactly what type of ignition system
Steps for Reigniting a Standing Pilot Light
The specific steps for reigniting a pilot light can differ slightly depending on make and model, but the overall process is mostly the same.
Locate the Pilot Light
The first step is to find where the pilot light is located. It should be near the bottom of the tank and is often located inside a small access panel. However, on some models, the controls for the pilot light are located directly on the outside of the tank.
Shut the Gas Off
Before you ever relight the pilot on your water heater or any other appliance, you should always make sure to shut the gas off to the unit for five minutes. This ensures that any leftover gas in the lines is dispersed so that it doesn't cause a large flare-up when you go to relight the pilot. When performing this step, it isn't necessary to shut off the main gas valve as you can do it using the pilot control knob. The knob that controls the pilot light should have three markings—"Off," "Pilot" and "On." To turn the gas off, simply turn the knob that controls the pilot light to the "Off" position.
Rotate Knob to Pilot Positiong
Once you've waited for the residual gas to disperse, rotate the knob so that it is in the "Pilot" position. Don't expect to hear or smell gas flowing yet as the valve won't open until you fully depress the knob, and this can only be done in the "Pilot" position.
Ignite the Gas
With the knob in the "Pilot" position, push it in as far as it can go and hold it. You'll then need to use your other hand and press the igniter button. You should see a small spark every time you press the button. Keep pressing it while holding in the knob until the gas ignites and you can see a flame. If you don't see a spark when pressing the igniter button, or if your unit is older and doesn't have an igniter, you will need to manually light the gas with a long-handled lighter or match.
Release the knob and Turn It On
After you see the gas ignite, continue pressing the knob in for approximately 30 seconds and then release it. If you don't hold the knob down long enough, the pilot usually won't stay lit and you'll need to try again. If the pilot stays lit after you release the knob, you should then turn it to the "On" position. On most units, the knob also controls the temperature so you will need to turn it to whatever temperature you want your water to be. You should generally always keep the temperature set between 130 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature is below 120 degrees, it can allow bacteria to grow inside the tank. On the other hand, if the temperature goes above 140 degrees, you run the risk of being scalded.
Professional Water Heater Services
There are many issues that can prevent your water heater's pilot light from staying lit. If you experience issues with your pilot light going out frequently or can't get it to stay lit, the expert team at Proactive Comfort is here for you. We service and repair all models of both traditional and tankless water heaters, and we can quickly get to the bottom of whatever is causing the issue. Other signs that indicate you need your water heater serviced or repaired include loud noises, rusty colored water, insufficient water temperature or longer than normal wait times for the water to heat. Our professional plumbers also have years of experience in water heater installation. When you choose us, we will evaluate your home and your water usage to ensure you get the right type and size of unit to meet your needs as effectively and efficiently as possible. We provide a full range of plumbing, heating, cooling and water heater services to customers in Hooskett, Nashua and throughout Southern New Hampshire. To learn more, give Proactive Comfort a call today.