How to Troubleshoot Your Furnace’s Pilot Light

If you are among those who heat their homes using a natural gas furnace, then chances are you’ve encountered an issue with the pilot light. The pilot light is a small flame that stays lit 24 hours a day, seven days a week and is fed by a small gas line that ignites the burners. The pilot light must be on for the unit to run properly and produce heat.

If your furnace has a pilot light, keep in mind that it should be kept clean and properly adjusted to ensure it’s running efficiently. You should always check the pilot light before the heating season to ensure the right air and fuel mix, and flame color. 

The color of your pilot light flame will vary depending on whether your furnace uses natural gas or propane as fuel. Natural gas flames should be bright blue with the tip showing a slight tinge of yellow, while a propane flame should be bluish-green with a tinge of yellow at the tip. 

How to Relight Your Pilot

Sometimes the pilot light stops working entirely. Below, we walk you through how to relight the pilot safely.

Keep in mind that every furnace is different, so these instructions may not work for every model. If that is the case, find directions for your specific model either in the owner’s manual, inside the furnace’s door cover, or online. 

  1. Make sure the thermostat in your house is set to “Heat” and is turned all the way up to the highest temperature setting. You want to force the furnace to turn on. 
  2. Find the instruction label on your furnace that will walk you through how to relight the pilot light. If the instructions are missing, or too small to read, follow the next steps. 
  3. Look toward the bottom of the furnace, where you should see a switch that normally says “Pilot,” “On” and “Off.” Once you’ve located this switch, turn the knob to the “Off” position. 
  4. Wait at least 3-5 minutes. This is a very important step that allows for any residual gas to dissipate. This is critical to avoid starting a possible fire. 
  5. Once the gas has had time to clear away, turn the knob to “Pilot.” While holding down the “Reset” button, use a long lighter or long fireplace match to bring a flame close to the opening of the pilot light. This should relight the pilot light. 
  6. Once you’re sure the pilot light is on, release your pressure on the “Reset” button.
  7. If the pilot light remains lit, turn your switch back to the “On” position. 
  8. Go back, turn on your “Heat” and turn up the temperature. 
  9. You should be feeling warm air coming from the registers. 

If these steps don’t work, or your pilot light won’t stay lit, it may be time to call for professional help. 

What if my pilot light won’t stay lit? 

If your pilot light goes out more than once per season or worse, regularly, it could mean you have a bigger problem with your furnace. 

There are several more serious reasons your pilot light might be going out:

  1. Bad or loose thermocouple
  2. Bad gas valve
  3. Poor pilot flame due to low gas pressure
  4. High winds or a downdraft
  5. Badly cracked heat exchanger
  6. Improper venting
  7. Gas is turned off or out of propane

If you suspect anything other than the unit being out of propane or the gas being shut off, you should always call a professional to address the issue. Don’t try and fix your furnace on your own. The furnace may be safe, but dealing with gas if you don’t have the knowledge can be dangerous. 

Is it time for a replacement furnace? 

Another thing to consider is whether it’s time to replace your furnace. If you are dealing with a furnace with a standing pilot light, it’s most likely on the older side, and it may be time to consider replacing it with a high-efficiency model that uses electronic ignition, or a boiler. Most forced-air furnaces have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years. So your furnace may be in its twilight years. 

If you are having issues with your pilot light or your gas furnace, it may be time to call a local heating system expert. Santa can help.

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