February 5, 2015

The hot water heater is one appliance that we often take for granted. When you hop in the shower or in the bathtub you expect that when you turn the nozzle to “hot”, you’ll get hot water. For some homeowners, the water comes out cold because, quite simply, the water heater is completely off. Hot water heaters go off for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common reasons we find is the pilot light simply won’t stay on.

What is a Pilot Light?

First and foremost, a pilot light is the small gas flame that is the source of power for your gas burner. When the light goes out, your water heater goes out, which is what makes this component so vital to your everyday life. Similarly, if your vehicle runs out of gas, it turns off.

Lighting the Pilot Light

Your pilot light is easily accessible and can be lit with any lighter or match. Because the openings in hot water heaters’ size and depth vary, it’s best to use a long lighter. First thing’s first, make sure the gas is turned on to the appliance. Next, turn the water heater off and remove the cover and find the pilot light. Once you locate it, lighting the pilot light is as simple as holding a button and lighting the gas with a lighter. When you light the pilot light, many homeowners forget to hold down the pilot button. Hold this button down to light the flame and keep it held for at least a minute to ensure it stays lit. Once you release it, turn the knob back to the “On” position or you can test it by keeping it in the “Pilot” or “Test” position.

If at this point the pilot light goes out again, then something must be causing it to turn off. If the light is on and your water is still cold, then contact a service technician to take a look at it.

“I Keep Lighting it and Nothing Happens”

As hot water heaters age, parts go bad and things just stop working. In most cases, the pilot light is first to go. If you constantly light the pilot and nothing happens, then there are a few things that could be causing the issue:

  • Thermocouple – First, the thermocouple may need to be replaced. The thermocouple is essentially the tube that connects to either the left or the right side of the pilot light. This tube detects when the pilot light is lit or not and, if it doesn’t, then the heater turns off. When you light the pilot light, the button you are holding is what keeps the light going (so long as you lit it), but the moment you release the button, the thermocouple takes over. A new thermocouple will properly detect the lit pilot light and allow the water heater to properly function. However, the thermocouple could also be repaired if it is merely bent. Sometimes the thermocouple is bent and can’t actually reach the flame to sense it, making it impossible to stay lit. If this is the case, it can oftentimes be bent back into place. Keep in mind the tube can break when you are bending it. If this happens, contact a service professional.
  • Dirt – Pilot lights, thermocouples, and even the outside of the hot water heater can get dirty. With age, this dirt can build up significantly and eventually get in the way of sensors, such as the thermocouple. A common and easy solution is to clean up the pilot light and thermocouple to see if a nasty dust and dirt buildup was the cause. Generally, you can see the dirt stacked up if the problem is dirt-related. If it doesn’t look that dirty, then it isn’t the cause.
  • Limited or Non-existent Gas Supply – Without proper gas flow, your pilot light will not even spark. Your gas supply is the end-all-be-all of your hot water heater. Without gas, you have no hot water (unless you’re using an electric hot water heater, in which case the gas supply does not apply). Check your gas supply and the line to ensure it is connected properly and has gas coming in. If there’s a problem coming into your home, contact your gas provider to have them fix the issue.
  • Bad Electrical – Last but not least is the electrical components. For electric water heaters, this is especially important. If a fuse keeps getting blown, you will need to contact an electrician to locate and fix the shorted circuit. Without electricity, turning the knob and pressing the button won’t do anything for you. If you can’t get the pilot light lit in the first place, this could possibly be the culprit. One other component that may not be working is the thermostat. Your heating coil could also be the culprit. Narrowing it down between the two requires a service professional. Replacing electrical components is more complicated than many homeowners think and can be dangerous, so you should always contact a professional.

If your pilot light keeps going out and you live in the Reading, PA area, give us a call at 610-709-6769 for a free quote! You can also use our contact form.

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