How to Tell If Pilot Light Is Out

Are you suddenly without warm air or stuck having cold showers? Not only are these things annoying, but they can be huge inconveniences, even if you have been going without them for only a short period of time. You suspect that it could be the pilot light on your furnace or water heater, but you are unsure of how to tell if pilot light is out.

small pilot flame gas furnace heater

Well, you came to the right place! Keep reading if you want to know how to tell if pilot light is out, how to fix it, and what causes pilot light to go out on water heaters and furnaces in the first place.

How Do I Know If My Pilot Light Is Out?

If you want to know how to tell if your pilot light is out, look for these three signs: lack of warm air/hot water, an error message or blinking light, and a lack of flame on your pilot light.

Lack of Warm Air/Hot Water

Though hot water may be out for other reasons, This is probably the first sign you will notice if your pilot light is out. Your furnace or water heater cannot heat your air or water without the lit pilot light.

Error Message or Blinking Light

Depending on your furnace or water heater model, there may be a light on its control panel that indicates whether there is a problem with the pilot light. If you do not know what the message or light means, refer to your manual.

There Is No Flame

Check your furnace or water heater to see once and for all to see if the flame of the pilot light is out.

What Do You Do When Your Pilot Light Goes Out?

After determining how to tell if pilot light is out, you will likely want to try to relight it yourself before calling in a professional. Fortunately, whether your water heater pilot light is out or your furnace pilot light is out, the process is virtually the same. Let us look at what to do if your gas-powered standing pilot light goes out.

Step 1: Gather Materials

  • Flashlight
  • A long match or lighter

Step 2: Check for Gas Leak

Sniff around the area for any strong odors. Natural gas is normally odorless, but gas companies add a scent like rotten eggs to it so that it is more noticeable. If you detect this kind of odor, stop here and contact a professional, as there is a risk of an explosion.

Step 3: Turn Off Gas

Locate the gas shut-off valve, usually on the lower front part of the unit. Turn it off and wait about 5-10 minutes for the gas to dissipate. Also, if there still is any, turn off all electrical power to the appliance.

Step 4: Open the Access Cover and Locate the Burner

If you do not just have an open gap where you can see the pilot light burner assembly, check under the gas valve for the pilot light access cover and use your flashlight to locate the burner. There will be two gas tubes leading to the burner assembly.

ringer igniting pilot light water heater

Step 5: Start the Gas

You need the gas to light the flame. Make sure the gas knob is turned to “Pilot,” and press and hold it down. Note that some water heaters have a special button for the pilot light that you would press and hold instead.

Step 6: Ignite the Pilot Light. Hold

While holding the gas button down, take your long match or lighter and light the pilot. Alternatively, if you have automatic or electronic ignition, press it to ignite the pilot. After it is lit, keep holding the button down for about a minute. This will get the air out of the gas line. Let go slowly and ensure the pilot light is still lit.

Step 7: Turn on the Gas

Turn the gas knob back on and listen for a whooshing noise. This signals the ignition of the main burner.

Can a Pilot Light Relight Itself?

Not exactly. If you have an automatic pilot light, you do not need to light it by hand as much as you need to reset the system. You can follow the steps above to locate the gas control knob and turn it off. Then, wait 5-10 minutes and turn it back to the on position.

Is It Dangerous If Your Pilot Light Goes Out?

It may not be immediately dangerous, but the potential is there if you have not turned off the gas line to your unit. If your pilot light goes out due to a gas leak and someone ignites a flame nearby, it could cause an explosion.

There is also the possibility of getting sick from an unlit pilot light. While carbon monoxide poisoning is nothing to worry about, as it does not leak from pilot lights that are out, you should be concerned about natural gas sickness.

Common signs of natural gas sickness include headache, shortness of breath, drowsiness, nausea, and dizziness. In extreme cases, it can cause coma, seizures, and death, so it is certainly something to be aware of and take seriously.

Does Gas Turn Off When Pilot Goes Out?

Yes, today’s gas-powered units with pilot lights have a failsafe that ensures that the gas to the unit is closed off if the flame goes out on the pilot light. It can be dangerous for your gas furnace or water heater to be on if the pilot light is not working, as excess gas can build up in the unit, so this a safety feature.

Why Is My Pilot Light Going Out?

When it comes to what causes the pilot light to go out on your water heater or furnace, the two most common reasons are problems with the thermocouple and a dirty pilot opening.

Thermocouple Issues

thermocouple heater isolated on white background

The thermocouple is the safety feature that closes off the gas valve if the pilot light goes out. It is just a small copper rod, and if it gets dirty, damaged, or bent, it could keep your pilot light from staying lit.

Dirty Pilot Light Opening

If you see that the pilot light flame is wavy and yellow, you may need to clean the pilot light orifice.

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