How Do I Relight My Water Heater’s Pilot?

Water Heater in Scottsdale, AZ

You just tried to get hot water, but you’re getting nothing but cold coming through the tap. It could be the pilot light on your water heater has gone out, preventing the unit from heating your water. You can easily attempt relighting the pilot before calling for a plumber to troubleshoot your water heater issue.

What Causes a Pilot to Go Out?

Pilot lights are a small, continually burning flame that’s used to light the burner under your water heater. In most cases, the pilot light goes out because of a temporary issue that quickly resolves, allowing you to relight it.

The most common issue is something restricting the airflow into the burn chamber, snuffing out the flame. Depending on where the intake vent is for your unit, this could be as simple as a strong wind. In these cases, you’ll be able to relight the pilot, and it’ll continue working without further incident.

Check for Warning Signs

Before beginning to work on your water heater, you want to inspect it to look for warning signs. This is especially important if your unit is nearing the end of its expected service life of 8 to 12 years.

First, look for any signs of water leaking from the unit. The most obvious sign is physical water. However, look for orange or white streaks coming from anywhere on the unit. The common culprits are where various pipes connect to the tank.

Next, make sure you check for signs of a gas problem before attempting to light a flame near your unit. Pay attention to the odor of the area for any signs of natural gas. Listen for any sounds of a hiss, either quiet or loud, which would indicate an uncontrolled gas leak.

If you suspect a gas leak of any form, do not proceed. Turn off the gas at the shutoff valve, and call one of the plumbers at Zest Plumbing & Drain to solve this issue safely.

Is Your Water Heater Manual or Automatic?

After you’ve determined your water heater is safe to relight, it’s time to determine what kind of unit you have. There are two options currently available that use pilot lights: manual and automatic.

With a manual pilot, you’ll need to have a separate ignition source, such as a match or lighter. You have to insert this into the bottom of the unit to light the pilot, so prepare to get down low for this work.

Automatic pilots are also called Electronic Ignition Systems. These have an electronic spark that lights the pilot, much like the push button igniter on propane grills.

You can determine which model you have by looking at the silver box on the side of your furnace that has the settings dial. On the dial you’ll see a setting that says “pilot,” and there will be a button on the top of the box. If there’s a second button that says ignition, you have an automatic pilot light. The good news about this is that you won’t need a separate ignition source.

Do This Before Beginning

It’s important to approach lighting your pilot safely, which means gathering everything you’ll need before starting. To relight your pilot, you may need a flashlight, lighter and possibly a screwdriver, depending on your model. We recommend using an extra-long stick lighter to keep your hand safely out from inside the unit.

If you have your owner’s manual, check for instructions on how to safely light the pilot. There may also be instructions on the side of your unit. Follow the instructions you find closely, being they were written for your specific model. If you don’t see instructions, use the process below.

Start by turning the setting dial to low, and turn the gas off at the shutoff valve. This is a critical step to prevent the potentially dangerous buildup of gas before trying to light the pilot. Let your unit sit for five to 10 minutes to let any gas dissipate before proceeding.

Lighting a Manual Pilot

Open the access panel on the side of the unit, usually below the control valve. Some models have this secured with screw, while others are easy to remove without tools. There may also be an interior door behind the initial cover. You’ll likely need a screwdriver to open this door, being it helps create an air seal to the chamber.

Once the access panel is open, you’ll want to use your flashlight to inspect underneath your unit. There are two things you’re looking for while there. First, you’re looking to find where the pilot light location is. This is normally behind the control box, so that gives you a sense of where to look.

You’ll know you’ve found it because there’s typically something that looks like a tapered nipple and also a sensor. While you’re looking, just take a peek for anything that shouldn’t be under the unit, including debris, or signs of corrosion, like rust or water spots.

Once you’ve inspected under the unit and given it a few minutes to dissipate any fuel remaining, you’re ready to try to light the pilot. Start by turning the gas back on at the shutoff valve. Next, turn the settings dial to pilot, put the end of the lighter by the pilot nozzle and light it, then press the button on top of the dial.

The gas should start flowing, and the pilot should light. You shouldn’t need to keep the lighter under the unit once the gas lights. However, you will have to continue pressing the button for 20 to 30 seconds to keep the gas flowing until the thermocouple senses enough heat to keep it flowing on its own.

Once you let go of the pilot button, watch the light for another 30 sends to make sure it stays lit. If it goes out, you’ll need to start the process over again, but this time hold the button for 45 seconds to one minute.

After your pilot lights, you have to put the access panel back in place. After you have, turn your settings knob to the setting of choice. Just be careful how high you set it so that you avoid scalding anyone in your home.

Lighting an Automatic Pilot

Lighting an automatic pilot is much easier. Once you’ve given the unit time to dissipate any gas that may have accumulated, turn the gas back on at the shutoff valve. Turn your settings knob to pilot, and hold down the pilot button. Immediately press and hold the ignition button, and you should hear the unit start up with a whoosh.

If your unit continues to experience problems with the pilot light, there may be some issue requiring further investigation and repair. This is the time to call a plumber to investigate and find the right solution.

Residents around Scottsdale turn to Zest Plumbing & Drain to solve water heater issues with a team that’s known for its service. Our professional plumbers provide water heater repair, maintenance and installation, plus drain cleaning, gas detection, water softener service and a host of other plumbing services. Call to schedule your water heater service appointment with one of our friendly plumbers today.

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