Lighting a Hot Water Heater Pilot Light

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On gas water heaters, the pilot light makes sure that there’s always flame available when the burner needs to kick in and heat water. If you run out of gas, install a new water heater or have to shut it down for some reason, lighting the pilot is the first step to turn on a water heater.

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In fact, in the course of gas water heater troubleshooting, issues with the pilot light are fairly common yet easy to fix. Here’s how to light a water heater pilot light in a few simple steps.

Before You Strike a Flame

Stand near the unit and take a deep breath. Do you smell gas or something like rotten eggs? If so, attempting to light the pilot at this point is extremely dangerous and could cause an explosion.

Turn off the gas line to your water heater and wait 1 hour. Turn the gas back on, wait 10 minutes, and sniff again. If the problem persists, call a qualified gas technician.

How to Light a Pilot Light on a Gas Water Heater

Older gas water heaters require you to use a flame to ignite the pilot, while newer models have a built in igniter. If you are not sure which type you have, look around the gas inlet line for a small glass window. This window is only found on newer models, because you actually have to access to the pilot light on older models.

If you have run out of gas or the gas has been turned off, it may require several tries to get the pilot lit because all of the air has to be forced out of the line first.

Turn the temperature control to the lowest setting. Do not turn the unit off, only to the lowest setting. Turn the On/Off knob to PILOT.

Turn the temperature control to the lowest setting. Do not turn the unit off, only to the lowest setting. Turn the On/Off knob to PILOT.

Near the bottom of the water heater, remove the outer access panel. Some models have a secondary access panel under the outer one, it is a safety panel to protect the pilot light and must be removed as well. You do not have to remove the access panel on all models, and the controls are outside the tank near the bottom of the unit.

If your unit has a pilot button, press and hold the button. If there is not a dedicated button, press the entire pilot control knob down. This button must be depressed until the pilot has been lit.


Older Models

There is a small tube extending from the base of the water heater gas valve which leads to the pilot. Locate this line and follow it to familiarize yourself with the location that needs to be lit. Using a grill igniter or fireplace match, ignite the pilot light.

Newer Styles

newer-style-pilot-lightLocate the pilot igniter button somewhere near the On/Off knob. While holding down the pilot button, press the pilot igniter button. If you look through the glass window while doing so, you will see a spark generated as the igniter is pressed.

Completing the Job

If the pilot lights, hold the button for 20 seconds and release. If it does not stay lit, repeat the process.

If the pilot will not light or remain lit after several tries, make sure you have gas in the tank and that there is sufficient ventilation. Some models have a filter that can be washed and replaced. There are also other reasons your pilot light won’t stay lit that you can troubleshoot.

If the pilot lights, you can replace the inner access panel (if one is present), and then the outer panel. Turn the pilot control knob to the ON position and set the temperature control to the desired setting.

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    • Leon’s problem with the pilot could be related to a wick issue. The propane systems with pilots have wicks, for turning those off they should be blown out not smothered. Gas/ Propane furnaces/ Cook stoves are the same. If the problem is a wick replacing it isn’t that difficult, either unscrew OR unclip the holder and remove the old wick remains and replace that with a new wick. A new wick may be conditioned for instant on when it’s lit, but you may need to let the fuel of the water heating system soak it for a smokeless burn. Oil lamps require a soaked wick, generally 4 to 12 hours before they light well.

  1. What is the normal flame after lighting the water heater? Is it supposed to be big? Like a full on flame like on a stove? If so much?
    And also, if that’s the normal flame after lighting it, will the flame reduce/go down after a certain temperature? Thanks.


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