If you’ve ever looked at a furnace pilot light, it’s almost amazing how such a small flame can be responsible for heating an entire house. But they can and do, unless the light goes out and needs to be relit.
Here we’ll discuss reasons why the pilot light keeps going out, how to relight it, and safety and maintenance tips for the pilot light and furnace in general.
What is a Furnace Pilot Light
A pilot light is a small gas flame used in older furnaces as an ignition source for the furnace’s gas burners. It’s a perpetual flame, ready to start the burners when the thermostat tells them to turn on.
3 Reasons Pilot Light Keeps Going Out
1. Pilot Light is Dirty
The pilot light opening, also called the pilot orifice, should be clean to develop a strong flame. Over time, the opening may fill with dirt, dust, and other minute debris. To clean, turn off the furnace, disconnect the power source, and disassemble the pilot light. Use compressed air or a needle to knock the dirt from the opening then reassemble.
2. Thermocouple Fails (broken, dirty, or off center)
The thermocouple, or flame sensor, is the safety mechanism that shuts the gas supply off if the pilot light goes out.
- Broken or burned out: Over time, the copper rod may break or burn out and is unable to correctly sense the lit flame. Until it’s replaced, the thermocouple stops the gas flow from the gas valve.
- Dirty: Soot, ash, and other dirt can build on the thermocouple and interfere with its function. But it’s easy to clean — remove the thermocouple and use a wire brush or coarse object to brush away the debris then reinstall.
- Misaligned: Make sure the flame fully envelops the top of the thermocouple. If the rod is misaligned, it can’t read the flame and triggers the gas valve shutoff.
3. Drafty Basement or Attic
Many furnaces are installed in attics or basements, two locations in the home notorious for air drafts. If your furnace is located here, check the area for drafts and seal any air leaks — it doesn’t take a windstorm to blow out the pilot light. Also, keep air intake registers in the home open and clear for appropriate air flow.
How to Re-Light Pilot Light
It’s relatively easy to re-light a furnace pilot light if there isn’t a larger issue within the system. However, if you suspect a broken part or leak anywhere in the heating unit, contact an HVAC professional immediately.
Check the Manual
This should be the first place you start since the manual will have directions specific for your furnace model. But, if you can’t find the manual, an internet search may return the needed instructions. Or, contact the furnace manufacturer and see if they can regular mail or email the manual.
Turn off the Gas
For your safety and the safety of anyone else in the house, turn off the gas and leave it off at least five minutes before proceeding. This time should be enough to allow leftover gas in the valves to dissipate.
Reset the Gas and Light the Pilot Light
Turn the gas back on and allow it to release from the pilot light. Look for a dial with a ‘pilot’ option to also restart the gas flow, and a separate reset button. Press the reset button and use a long lighter, such as a gas grill lighter, to relight the pilot light.
Pilot Light Safety and Maintenance Tips
Any appliance, such as a furnace, that relies on gas to operate should be approached with care. As with any part of an HVAC system, regular tune-ups and maintenance performed by a trained technician is key to the longevity and safety of a furnace.
Schedule Routine Tune-Ups and Maintenance
In their prime, furnaces with pilot lights could operate with 50% to 70% efficiency. Regular maintenance is the best way to extend the efficiency, and safety within your home.
During a regular tune-up, an HVAC technician checks the furnace’s performance, how much carbon monoxide it produces, and cleans the unit. When the furnace operates, the internal heat exchanger collects dirt and other debris; as the debris builds, the furnace has to work harder to produce heat, increasing overall wear and tear.
Make sure to Change Your Air Filter
The air filter protects the blower fan from collecting airborne debris, such as dust, fur, and hair, that can build and clog its movement. Plus, the filter stops the debris from recirculating in your home, improving the indoor air quality.
Place Carbon Monoxide Detectors in Bedrooms
As a furnace ages, it’s common for the pilot light to produce more carbon monoxide, a poisonous but odorless gas. It’s recommended to place carbon monoxide detectors in bedrooms and other sleeping areas so you and loved ones are alerted to unsafe levels any time of day. If any detectors go off, immediately leave the home and call 911.