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Water Heater Pilot Light Won’t Stay Lit: Effective Solutions Explored

A water heater pilot light is essential for ensuring that your water heater functions properly by providing the initial ignition for the burner. However, sometimes, the pilot light doesn’t stay lit, leading to problems and frustration for homeowners. In this article, we will explore the various reasons why a water heater pilot light might not stay lit, and provide some troubleshooting tips and solutions, including testing for a failing thermocouple.

Understanding why a water heater pilot light is not staying lit may involve examining multiple factors such as gas supply issues, thermocouple malfunctions, or even safety features that trigger the pilot light to go out. With regular maintenance and necessary repairs, you can ensure a stable pilot light and optimal water heater performance. In some cases, it may be necessary to consult with a professional technician for advanced troubleshooting and repairs.

Key Takeaways

  • Water heater pilot light issues may result from gas supply problems, thermocouple malfunctions, or safety feature activation.
  • Regular maintenance and necessary repairs can ensure a stable pilot light and optimal water heater performance.
  • In some cases, professional technicians should be consulted for advanced troubleshooting and repairs.

Understanding the Water Heater Pilot Light

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The water heater pilot light is a small flame that constantly burns and acts as an ignition source for the main burner in a gas water heater. When the thermostat calls for heat, the pilot light ignites the main burner, heating the water in the tank. It is important for the pilot light to stay lit for the water heater to function properly.

In general, there are a few common reasons why the pilot light on a water heater might not stay lit. One potential issue could be debris, dirt, or other particles blocking the pilot tube. This small tube delivers gas to the pilot light, and a blockage can result in insufficient gas reaching the pilot light, causing it not to light up [source].

Another reason for a pilot light not staying lit is a faulty thermocouple. The thermocouple is a safety device that senses the presence of the pilot light’s flame. If it doesn’t detect a flame, it sends a signal to the gas valve to close, preventing gas from flowing to the pilot light and burner [source]. A damaged or malfunctioning thermocouple can cause the pilot light to go out.

To check if the thermocouple is the issue, inspect it for signs of damage, such as dirt, grime, or unusual bending. If you suspect it to be the problem, remove the thermocouple and test it with a multimeter to confirm [source].

Various external factors may also affect the performance of the pilot light on a gas water heater. For example, drafts or strong winds can extinguish the flame. Moreover, a change in gas pressure or the presence of air in the gas lines may lead to an inadequate supply of fuel for the pilot light to stay lit.

By understanding these potential issues, you’ll be more equipped to diagnose the root cause of a water heater pilot light not staying lit. In turn, this knowledge enables you to take appropriate actions to restore the proper functioning of your .

Causes for the Pilot Light Not Staying Lit

Gas Supply Issues

One of the primary reasons for a pilot light not staying lit is gas supply problems. It is essential to ensure that the gas supply is turned on and that there is no interruption in the gas flow. Checking the main gas valve and the gas control knob is crucial in troubleshooting this issue. If the gas supply is interrupted or insufficient, the pilot light will not stay lit.

Pilot Tube Problems

A dirty pilot tube can cause the pilot light to go out. Debris, dirt, and other particles can block the pilot tube, preventing sufficient gas from reaching the pilot light. To fix this issue, it is necessary to clean the pilot tube, ensuring it is free from blockage.

Thermocouple Complications

The thermocouple is a critical component that helps keep the pilot light lit by detecting the presence of heat and sending a signal to the gas control valve. A bad thermocouple may not send the appropriate signal, thus causing the pilot light to go out. Another possible concern is a dirty or curved thermocouple, which can also prevent the pilot light from staying lit. In such cases, cleaning or replacing the thermocouple is required.

Burner Troubles

Issues with the burner or ignition system can lead to the pilot light not staying lit. A poorly functioning burner may not generate enough heat to keep the thermocouple engaged, and it may cause the gas control valve to close. Regular inspection and maintenance of the burner components can help prevent the pilot light from going out.

Gas Leak Concerns

Gas leaks pose a serious safety hazard and should be addressed immediately. If there is a suspected gas leak, one might notice a faint gas smell or see bubbles forming in a soapy water solution applied to the gas line connections. A gas leak can disrupt the gas flow to the pilot light and cause it to go out. In such cases, it is crucial to shut off the gas supply and contact a professional to inspect and repair the leak.

Testing for a Failing Thermocouple

A failing thermocouple is a common issue for a water heater pilot light that won’t stay lit. The thermocouple is a safety device that detects the pilot flame and generates a small voltage to keep the gas valve open, allowing gas to flow and maintain the flame. If the thermocouple is bad, it’s unable to provide enough voltage, causing the pilot light to go out.

To test a potentially bad thermocouple, a multimeter can be used. A multimeter is an electronic instrument that can measure voltage, current, and resistance. Before testing, make sure that the pilot light is lit and the thermocouple is at least 1/4 inch into the flame.

First, set the multimeter to the millivolt setting. Carefully disconnect the thermocouple from the gas control valve and connect the multimeter probes to the two terminals on the thermocouple. A properly functioning thermocouple should generate around 20-30 millivolts when heated by the pilot flame. If the multimeter reads less than 20 millivolts, it’s likely that the thermocouple is faulty and needs replacement.

In some cases, a DIY approach to test and replace the thermocouple can be done by homeowners with some basic knowledge of water heater components. Make sure to turn off the gas supply and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when handling any parts of the water heater.

However, if you are not confident in your skills or encounter difficulties in testing the thermocouple, it is recommended to consult a professional technician. A technician can accurately diagnose the issue and perform any necessary repairs or replacements to ensure the safe and efficient operation of your water heater.

Keep in mind the importance of regular maintenance and cleaning of your water heater. Regularly checking the pilot light and thermocouple can help prevent issues and extend the lifespan of your appliance.

Safety Precautions When Working with Water Heaters

When working with water heaters, it is essential to prioritize safety to prevent accidents and ensure the longevity of the water heater unit. Following the necessary safety precautions reduces the risk of injuries and protects everyone involved.

Before starting any work on a water heater, always turn off the power supply to eliminate the risk of electric shock. If the unit is electric, turn off the circuit breaker, and if it is gas-powered, be sure to turn off the gas valve.

Ventilation is crucial when dealing with gas water heaters, as gas leaks can be hazardous. If you smell gas or suspect a leak, turn off the appliance and contact a professional technician immediately. It is advisable not to light a match or use any electrical equipment in the vicinity of a suspected gas leak, as this could potentially trigger an explosion.

When working with a gas water heater, it is essential to let the unit sit for at least five minutes before attempting to ignite the pilot light, allowing any residual gas to disperse from the lines and inside the unit. This prevents any build-up of gas in the heater, which might lead to explosions or fires if not dealt with properly.

Wearing safety gear, such as gloves and eye protection, is a necessary precaution while working on water heaters. These protective measures help prevent burns, as scalding hot water or heated surfaces may be present when servicing the unit.

Always refer to the water heater’s owner’s manual for specific instructions and safety measures when working with a particular model. Following the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations can prevent potential hazards and damages to the unit.

Lastly, if you are unsure about any aspect of working on a water heater, it is best to consult a professional technician who has the expertise and tools necessary for the job. This ensures that the water heater is handled safely and correctly, avoiding any potential complications or damage.

Step by Step Guide to Fixing a Water Heater Pilot Light

A water heater pilot light that won’t stay lit can be frustrating to deal with, but it can often be resolved easily with just a few simple steps. In this guide, we will provide you with a concise and effective method to diagnose and fix the issue. These steps are designed for DIY enthusiasts but should be carried out with caution; if in doubt, it’s always safer to consult a professional technician.

Firstly, it’s crucial to ensure your safety when dealing with a water heater pilot light problem. Before attempting any troubleshooting, turn off the gas control knob on the water heater, and wait for a few minutes to allow any residual gas to disperse. If you smell a strong scent of gas, leave the area immediately and contact your gas company ^1^.

Once safety has been assured, start by inspecting the thermocouple. A faulty thermocouple can often be the cause of a pilot light not staying lit. Check if the thermocouple is positioned correctly, near the pilot light flame, so that it can accurately detect heat. If the thermocouple appears to be bent or damaged, you may need to replace it.

Next, clean the pilot light orifice and tube. A blocked orifice can prevent the flow of gas to the pilot light, which may cause it to go out. Use a small brush or a needle to remove any visible debris from the orifice and tube. Additionally, consider using compressed air to blow away any lingering dirt and dust ^2^.

After ensuring that the thermocouple and pilot light components are in good condition, attempt to relight the pilot light. Turn the gas control knob to the “pilot” setting and press the ignition button or use a long match to light the flame. Keep the gas control knob pressed for about 30 seconds to allow the thermocouple to heat up. If the pilot light stays lit after releasing the gas control knob, you have successfully resolved the issue.

However, if the pilot light still won’t stay lit, the problem might be with the gas control valve. A malfunctioning gas control valve can prevent the pilot light from staying lit by not providing a sufficient amount of gas. In this case, it’s best to contact a qualified technician to assess the situation and make any necessary replacements or repairs.

By following the steps outlined in this guide, you should be able to troubleshoot and fix a water heater pilot light that won’t stay lit. Remember to always prioritize safety and consult a professional if you’re unsure about any part of the process.

When to Call a Technician

While some pilot light issues can be resolved by homeowners, there are instances when it is best to call a technician. This is particularly important if you suspect a gas leak, have difficulties locating the issue, or the problem persists despite your efforts.

In the event of a suspected gas leak, it is crucial to contact a professional technician immediately. Gas leaks can be dangerous and pose a risk to both your health and property. Potential signs of a gas leak include a strong, unpleasant odor similar to rotten eggs, hissing noises near the water heater, or even a higher than usual gas bill. Additionally, if you experience any physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness or nausea, seek professional help without delay.

Water heater pilot light problems might be caused by a faulty gas valve. The gas control valve may fail to send a signal for the gas to flow to the pilot and burner. A trained technician will have the necessary tools and knowledge to test the gas valve and replace it if needed. Attempting to repair the gas valve on your own could put you at risk of causing further damage or even accidents.

Finally, if you have tried troubleshooting on your own and still can’t seem to resolve the pilot light issue, it’s time to consult an expert. A technician can more accurately diagnose the problem and recommend the best course of action. This could range from a simple fix, such as adjusting the thermocouple, to more complex solutions, like replacing the entire pilot assembly.

In conclusion, calling a technician for water heater pilot light issues is a sensible decision when facing the potential dangers of gas leaks and faulty gas valves, or when you simply can’t solve the problem on your own. Trusting a professional will ensure the safety and efficiency of your water heater, keeping your home and family protected.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the pilot light go out when releasing the knob?

The pilot light may go out when releasing the knob due to a faulty thermocouple or insufficient gas supply. The thermocouple is designed to keep the gas valve open if the pilot light is lit, but if it’s faulty, the valve will close, causing the pilot light to go out. Additionally, an inadequate gas supply can prevent the pilot from staying lit. To fix this issue, check the gas supply’s main valve and ensure it’s open.

How can I tell if my thermocouple is faulty?

To determine if your thermocouple is faulty, first, check its physical condition. If it is not dirty, grimy, or bent, it may be damaged. Remove the thermocouple and test it with a multimeter. A faulty thermocouple will not produce an appropriate voltage reading when heated, indicating it needs replacement. For more information, you can check this source.

How do I clean my water heater’s thermocouple?

To clean your water heater’s thermocouple, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off the gas supply to the water heater.
  2. Remove the thermocouple from the pilot assembly.
  3. Using a fine abrasive pad or steel wool, gently scrub away any dirt or buildup on the thermocouple.
  4. Reinstall the thermocouple, ensuring it is securely connected and positioned correctly.
  5. Turn the gas supply back on and attempt to relight the pilot light.

Why won’t the pilot light on my gas heater stay lit?

A pilot light that won’t stay lit is commonly caused by a bad thermocouple, a dirty or blocked pilot orifice, low gas pressure, air in the gas line, or an incorrectly adjusted gas valve. To diagnose and fix the problem, consider checking these common reasons mentioned in this source.

Is it dangerous for the pilot light to go out?

If the pilot light goes out, it can be dangerous due to the potential for gas leaks. A properly functioning thermocouple should prevent gas from leaking when the pilot light is out. However, if the thermocouple is not working correctly, gas may continue to flow, creating a hazard. If you smell gas and suspect a leak, turn off the gas supply, ventilate the area, and contact a professional.

What steps can I take if my pilot light keeps going out?

If your pilot light keeps going out, follow these steps:

  1. Check the gas supply and ensure the main valve is open.
  2. Inspect and clean the thermocouple, pilot orifice, and surrounding area.
  3. Look for signs of a faulty thermocouple and replace it if needed.
  4. Examine the gas valve and adjust it as necessary.
  5. If the problem persists, consult a professional plumber for further diagnosis and repair.

By following these steps, you can troubleshoot and potentially resolve issues with your pilot light. However, if these steps are not effective, it is crucial to seek professional assistance for a safe and proper solution.

author avatar
Anthony Barnes
Anthony Barnes is the founder of Water Heater Hub and a second-generation plumber by profession. Before developing Water Heater Hub, Anthony Barnes was a full-time plumber, and he has undertaken a wide variety of projects over the decades. As a second-generation plumber, it was easy for Anthony to get used to the technicalities of all from a tender age


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