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How to diagnose your pilot light problems

pilot light solutions

Fixing your pilot light problems means you'll never step into a cold shower.

Ongoing water heater issues are a relatively common problem.  Your pilot light - the little flame in your water heater - is one of the main culprits when your hot water gets finicky.

This little light of mine

Your pilot light is a small flame that burns perpetually inside of your water heater. The flame is controlled by a thermocouple, which is a "an electrical device consisting of two different conductors forming electrical junctions at differing temperatures (and) produces a temperature-dependent voltage as a result of the thermoelectric effect, and this voltage can be interpreted to measure temperature." Got it? Good.

The thermocouple will shut off the gas valve if the light goes out or isn't functioning properly.  In other words, this thermocouple is big on safety

What's up with my pilot light?

Pilot light and water heaters

Here are some of the top reasons why your pilot light may be going out like a birthday candle:

1. Thermocouple issues

The thermocouple controls the valve feeding gas to the pilot light. This safety feature helps prevent an extinguished light from leaking gas into your basement or home. However, a malfunctioning unit could be cutting off the flame's fuel supply.

2. Inefficient burning 

A normal, healthy pilot light should burn with a bright blue glow. If you notice the flame is burning a different color – such as yellow or orange – something could be really wrong.

In most cases, the off-color means that some kind of outside force is causing inefficient burning. As a result, your thermocouple will identify a problem and go into protection mode. The thermocouple will continue to extinguish the flame and close the valve, which explains your ongoing problems.

3. Windy or drafty setup

Depending on where your water heater is located, your pilot light problems may be a breeze. An interior draft or windy section of your basement can blow out the flame with just one gust. Check for any sources of draftiness, like cracks in your windows.

4. Dirt, grime or accumulation near the pilot light

Your basement or closet is a prime location for dust. In time, that dust can accumulate on or near your pilot light. Even worse, the heat near the flame encourages dirt to stick even more.

Accumulated dirt infringes on the flame area and can cause the pilot light to burn inconsistently. If the buildup becomes severe, you could wind up with the flame burning out intermittently.

How to fix your pilot light

1.Use the checklist above and methodically check out each issue.

2. Relight the pilot using the instructions provided with your system.

3. Check to make sure the flame is burning a brilliant blue hue.

4. Still having a problem? Call a water heating professional for service.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember, you're dealing with gas. You shouldn’t start any furnace-related maintenance if you don’t completely understand what you're doing. You could do serious damage to your water heater or - even more importantly - yourself and your family.

There's no shame in calling in a pro! A trained expert will help you determine what needs to be done to get your pilot light functioning properly. They can even help with a water heater replacement if the unit is simply shot.

Getting professional help

If your pilot light woes are still giving you trouble, give John C. Flood a call. We provide a wide range of service and maintenance for all your HVAC repair and water heater needs. Need to update? Even better! We can help you replace your old-fashioned furnace with a newer, more energy efficient model.