One of the most common problems that you will face with your gas water heater is a faulty pilot light. The water heater pilot light needs to stay lit for a number of reasons. Not only does it ignite the gas inside your heater, but it also helps to maintain the internal temperature of your water heater, which cools over time.
Igniting the pilot light is the first step you take to turning on the water heater. If this isn’t working, then you know there will be a problem with the whole unit. As this is a fairly common problem amongst gas water heaters, it is also pretty easy to fix.
Take a look at our guide below to troubleshooting and fixing your water heater pilot light.
Lighting a Gas Water Heater
Before starting to worry about your broken pilot flame, you will need to make sure that you are igniting it properly first. This is the initial step for any water heater pilot light troubleshooting.
You get two different types of water heater igniters. The older kind requires you to manually light the flame with a match or lighter, while the newer models utilize a spark igniter through the push of a button. The same basic rules for lighting the pilot flame applies for each model.
Igniting the Pilot Light
- Make sure that the pilot control knob has been turned off before starting the process
- Once the system has been turned off, you will need to wait a while for everything to cool down. Make sure that the burner compartment and thermocouple have been properly cooled down. Giving it time will also make sure that any excess gas from the pilot disappears.
- Once cooled down, turn the pilot control knob to light.
- If you have one of the older, manual models, this would be the time to strike a match or get your lighter ready.
- Now you will need to press the pilot knob down on the light setting and hold it there for a while. This will release the gas to the pilot flame. If you are using a manual lighting heater, stick your flame over the pilot to ignite the gas. If you have a newer model, this is when you will need to press the ignite button to spark the gas. Once lit you will need to hold the button down for a while to ensure that it keeps burning.
- Once the pilot is burning well, release the knob and turn it to the ‘on’ setting.
- Now the water heater pilot light should be burning smoothly. If the light starts to flicker, or goes out, then it would be time to troubleshoot the problem.
While this guide applies to basically all water heaters, be sure to check the instructions of your specific unit first. Different igniting systems may vary slightly. It is also important to make sure that you don’t smell any gas leak in the air when you ignite the water heater pilot light.
7 Reasons Why the Water Heater Pilot Light May Not Be Working
We see faulty pilot lights pretty often, so there is no cause for major concern if this is the case. Here are seven of the most common reasons why your water heater pilot light might not be working, and how you can fix it.
Clean the Air Vents
Underneath the burner, at the bottom of the tank, or on the sides of the pilot light there should be air vents. Firstly, make sure that these vents are clean in order for the burner to run smoothly. If these are blocked up, there will be a lack of oxygen which can affect your flame. This is the first thing to notice.
Interrupted Gas Flow
This is one of the most common reasons why your pilot light may not be working, and it is something that can happen in old and brand new models. Luckily, this one is super quick and easy to fix by yourself.
Your water heater will have a flex tube that connects to the gas controller. Sometimes this tube may become kinked, restricting the flow of gas. As these tubes are found externally, this can be an easy issue to figure out.
Simply straighten out the kink in your flex tube and you should be good to go! If the problem continues though, perhaps you should have a look at the thermocouple.
A Dirty Pilot Tube
This is something that could commonly occur in older water heaters that have seen plenty of use. If your pilot light won’t ignite or flicker at all, then there is a good chance that a dirty pilot tube is the cause of it.
Check your pilot tube to see if there is any dirt in it. Sometimes this little tube will get blocked off by some kind of unwanted debris, restricting the flow of gas. If this is the case, then an easy fix is in order.
All you need to do is take a needle or thin piece of wire, and run it through the pilot tube until it has been cleared out. Try to light the flame again to see if you have been successful in unblocking the tube.
A Bent Sensor
This is another pretty simple problem with an easy fix. Have a look at your thermocouple – there should be a sensor at the end of it that just touches against the pilot flame when lit. Sometimes this sensor can bend away from the flame, causing an issue with the heater.
All you need to do is bend this little sensor back in place so that it will lightly touch the flame. Problem solved.
A Broken Thermocouple
The thermocouple is one of the most important parts of your water heater – so if it is broken or damaged, your pilot light won’t work. There are a few ways in which your thermocouple may be damaged, some more serious than others.
The best way to check this out is by taking a reading with a multimeter. If this reading is above 20MV then the thermocouple should be fine. Anything below this though, and you will know that the part is damaged. This will then require replacing with a new thermocouple.
A Dirty Thermocouple
Sometimes your thermocouple can give you problems that are easy to fix. This is commonly found through an obstruction in the device. Your thermocouple is a special little gadget that is designed to monitor whether the pilot light is on or not through an electric signal. If the thermocouple thinks that the pilot is out, it will shut off the gas supply.
This often happens if there is some kind of dirt or debris getting in the way of this signal. Simply remove the thermocouple from your water heater, and gently rub it down with a cloth or piece of fine sandpaper. This should remove any dirt blocking the signal.
A Damaged Control Valve
While the issues mentioned above are all fairly easy to figure out and fix, a damaged control valve can be a pretty serious problem. If your pilot light isn’t working, be sure to look into all of the above issues first before jumping to the control valve.
If you can’t seem to find the problem, then chances are it’s a faulty control valve. Unfortunately, this can be quite an expensive issue to repair. It is not an easy job either. The only way to fix this is through replacing the control valve – something that is best done by a professional.
Replacing the Thermocouple
Out of all of the problems that could occur with your water heater pilot light, a broken thermocouple is one of the most common. Luckily, replacing your thermocouple is a job that can be done at home pretty easily – especially if you have an older manual water heater. If you have a sealed burner compartment though, this could get a bit more tricky.
To replace the thermocouple, start by turning the gas supply completely off. Shut off the supply valve, and turn the pilot control knob to off.
The thermocouple will be fastened to a bracket. Use a wrench to loosen the screws and take the device off of the bracket. Reach into the burner compartment and pull the thermocouple out completely.
Take your new thermocouple and bend the wire on it so that it matches the position of the old one. Reinsert and screw this new device down onto the bracket. Make sure that the tip of it will just touch the pilot flame.
Then all you need to do is connect the outer end to the gas control valve and tighten this firmly. Now you can relight your pilot flame with the new thermocouple.
If your water heater isn’t working properly, heating up, igniting, or cooling down, then the pilot light should be the first place to look. There are a number of reasons why your water heater pilot light may not be working – most of them are easy enough to troubleshoot and fix at home.
Be sure to check out all of the possible options, and see what you can do to get the pilot burning smoothly again. One of the most common issues will come from the thermocouple, something that can be replaced pretty easily.
It is important to remember that if you are confused about what the cause might be, or are unsure how to fix it, rather called an experienced water heater maintenance professional to take on the job.
We hope this has answered your questions as to why your water heater pilot light isn’t working. For more maintenance tips on your water heater appliance, check out the dedicated section on our website.