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How Do You Know if Your Pilot Light Is Working or Out?

When your gas furnace decides to kick off at random on the coldest night of the year, your first response is always to get help and get it fast! Most people call someone right off the bat, whether it’s a family member or a contractor. No matter who you call, they will ask you the same thing: Is the pilot light out?

But for many of us, this just presents another problem. What even is a pilot light? How do you check one, and how can you tell if the pilot light is out or not? You came to GAC Services today for answers, and we’re about to give them to you! Follow along to learn the basics of understanding and caring for your pilot light.

Need help troubleshooting a pilot light in your gas furnace? Contact the furnace and heating experts at GAC Services now!

What Is the Pilot Light, and What Does It Do?

Before you can understand how something works, and thus how to care for it, you first need to know what the thing actually is in the first place. Luckily any pilot light, be it in a furnace or a water heater, is actually a fairly simple component. In essence, the pilot is responsible for combusting your fuel source.

In an older system, this worked (and still works, for many of us) by the heating system pushing fuel into the combustion chamber where it waits to be ignited, which is the pilot’s job. When the pilot lights, it’s using a small gas supply of its own that contacts the igniter on the pilot. This lights it, supplying the flame to combust fuel and heat your home.

In more modern applications, pilots have either been replaced or changed to an electric control system (which doesn’t require you to manually relight the flame should it go out) that handles the operation of the pilot on its own. Because of this difference we’ll be splitting out explanation up into parts from here.

Handling a Standing Traditional Pilot

If your home uses an older furnace system equipped with a pilot, then checking it is actually fairly simple. Just follow these steps:

  1. Remove the front cover panel on your furnace.
  2. This should expose the pilot, which simply looks like a small single burner, kind of like a candle or if you only had a single flame lit on a gas stove.
  3. If there is no flame, then the pilot is out.
  4. If there is a flame, but the flame is weak or burning a strange color, then the burner assembly may be clogged and need cleaning. A strange color is essentially anything other than blue or, for a propane burner, blue-green.

To relight the pilot, you’ll need to hold down the knob that controls gas flow, which should be nearby. Simply depress the value for roughly 20 seconds, then use a long match to relight the flame.

Handling a Modern Electrical Pilot

An electrical pilot is actually far simpler, as all you’ll need to do is either depress the knob or flip a switch (which it is depends on furnace model) and within the next half-minute, the pilot should resume normal operation. If it does not, then you’ll want to call a furnace specialist to handle the issue.

Can a Pilot Light Outage Be Dangerous?

The worry here is that when a pilot goes out, the gas valve that supplies the fuel for the pilot flame could still be pumping gas. This can mean a buildup of gas, and when the pilot is relit or relights itself it could result in a very serious explosion. However, this is much less of a scare in modern days. All furnaces made within any reasonable amount of time (20 years or so) will be equipped with a failsafe electrical shut off valve. This valve operates automatically and shuts off gas flow as soon as the pilot goes out, preventing any risks of excessive gas buildup.

That said, even the failsafe system can malfunction, so any time your pilot is out, be sure to carefully check for any strong odors of gas (smells kind of like sulfur, or rotten eggs). If you notice a gas smell, do not attempt to relight the pilot!

Furnace Maintenance and Furnace Services in Montgomery County, MD

Handling a gas- or oil-fueled system can be scary for anyone. Are you worried about your pilot light, or do you need help getting it relit and operating safely again? No matter your needs, GAC Services is here to help!

Our specialists are on standby and ready to help any time, any day. Whether you need answers on how to tell if the furnace pilot light out or you want a professional to help relight it, just call GAC at (240) 233-8498


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