What to Do When Your Gas Furnace Pilot Light Won’t Stay Lit

Posted: October 3, 2016

Why New Furnaces Don’t Have a Pilot Light

pilot light

Have you ever woken up in the middle of the night wondering why your house was so cold? Perhaps you just got home from work to a home with no heat and went straight to the thermostat. You immediately push the button to increase the temperature and that’s when you know something is wrong. Your temperature was already supposed to be at 70 degrees and it feels like 40 or 50 degrees inside. So, you head down to the gas furnace to see what’s going on. The most common reason why a gas furnace may suddenly stop working is that the pilot light has gone out.

Do You Have an Older Gas Furnace?

If you have an older gas furnace, your heating unit relies on a small blue flame known as a pilot light to ensure the ignition of the burners. Water heaters, gas fireplaces and old gas stoves often have similar pilot lights. If your furnace has a round knob on the gas valve with the words OFF/ON/PILOT/, you have what’s known as a standing pilot ignition.

As you probably know from experience, the biggest drawback to pilot lights is that they will get extinguished at times, causing you to lose your heat. Common reasons include a nearby draft, dirt buildup, or a malfunctioning thermocouple.

Another pilot light drawback is energy waste. Since the pilot light needs to remain active, your furnace is always consuming some gas. It’s not a lot—usually just a few therms of gas a month–but that obviously adds up over time.

There is a safety issue as well. Pilot lights can develop problems that cause them to burn inefficiently. When this happens, a small amount of carbon monoxide can be released into your home.

Why Did My Pilot Light Go Out?

It is most common for a pilot light to go out in older gas furnaces and if you have an older furnace there’s a good chance it’s the reason why your heat has suddenly stopped working. This can happen for many reasons and the most common causes include:

How Do I Re-Light My Gas Furnace Pilot Light?

Here are instructions for re-lighting your pilot light. If you don’t feel comfortable doing any of these steps, do not attempt to try it. Instead, call us for service. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. We will come to your home and get your pilot light working again.
First, check to see if there are specific directions printed on the exterior of your gas furnace. Most furnaces have step-by-step directions printed directly on the outside of the tank or housing to help you to light your pilot when the flame has gone out.

It’s very important to cross-check the following instructions with any directions that are printed on your equipment. Always follow your equipment instructions first.

Step 1: Find the gas valve that has the on/off and pilot setting printed on it. It’s located within the pilot light assembly.

Step 2: You need to first make sure you turn the valve to the OFF position and wait at least 3 minutes before going on to the next step.

Step 3: Turn the valve to the PILOT setting and hold a lighted match right next to the opening of the pilot light. (Do not stick the match inside the opening; hold the lit match about 1-3 inches away from the opening)

While you are holding the lit match, locate and push the reset button on the pilot control panel. Make sure you press the button and keep it pressed until you see the pilot light up. As soon as the light is back, set the valve to the ON position.

Step 4: If the pilot light will not stay on there is a good chance there is some dirt or debris that’s causing a clog near the opening. You can use a piece of wire or a coat hanger to gently remove any dirt or debris that has built up around the pilot light opening.

If your pilot light still won’t stay on after numerous attempts, contact Wilson Oil and Propane and we will send a technician out to your home right away. You may have a faulty thermocouple that needs to be replaced or repaired in order to restore heat to your home. Our skilled technicians are experienced in water heater maintenance, water heater repair, and water heater installation.

Modern Furnaces and Electronic Ignition

All of these problems are not an issue when you have a modern gas furnace, which uses electronic ignition instead of an old-fashioned pilot light.

Most furnaces with electronic ignition have a device called a hot surface igniter. This is a small electronic device that receives an electrical current whenever your thermostat calls for heat. The ignition heats up to a temperature that is hot enough to ignite the gas to your burners, and then it shuts off after it has done its job.

Another type of electronic ignition is an intermittent pilot light. This uses a small flame to ignite the burners just like a conventional pilot light. The difference is that the flame is only lit (by an electronic spark) when your furnace is ready for a heating cycle. When the pilot light is not needed, it is completely off, saving you money on gas.

Founded in 1926, Wilson Oil and Propane strive to provide excellent service to our customers every single day. In addition to expert heating and cooling services, heating oil delivery, and propane delivery, we offer our customers many ways to lower their energy costs and enhance their comfort.

Become a customer today.