Furnace Repair: What Are Pilot Lights?

If you have used gas heating or have experienced a furnace repair before, you probably know that the pilot light is the small flame that lights the larger burner. Pilot lights are a common part of many gas appliance ignition systems like gas fireplaces or gas water heaters (gas furnaces tend to use electrical ignition, but this can vary based on age and models).

Some people prefer to turn their pilot lights off during the summer and back on in the winter to save on money and maintenance. However, if the pilot light is forgotten, and not turned back on—heaters won't work properly. Thus, all you'll get is cold airflow. Proper pilot light functionality is essential to these appliances.

Common Pilot Light Failings

The "relight the pilot light and try again" philosophy works when it comes to minor furnace repairs. However, many homeowners encounter more serious problems. For example, some homeowners find that they can't light the pilot light at all. Some try to light the pilot light but come to find it has gone out again. This indicates something else has gone wrong. Here are some common issues:

  • Thermocouple Problems: The thermocouple is a simple sensor that keeps track of the pilot light and shuts it down if something goes wrong, etc. When thermocouples fail, they tend to shut off gas to the pilot light randomly. This could be the cause of your problems.
  • Ignition Clogs: Natural gas does produce a small amount of residue. Over time, this residue can build up and clog the nozzle for your pilot light. If gas cannot flow through due to blockages, the pilot light will be unable to stay lit.
  • Ignition Positioning: Sometimes the igniter that creates the necessary spark for your pilot light can lose its alignment. In this case, the igniter must be repositioned in order to light the pilot light correctly.
  • Air Flow: Even though pilot lights are small, their little flames still need air! If venting and air flow is compromised, the pilot light will weaken and shut down.
  • Gas Line Issues: Sometimes your gas line may experience problems that cause the pilot light to be unable to get the gas flow that it needs.

Troubleshooting a Pilot Light

Because pilot lights tend to be complicated little systems, save the more serious furnace repairs for our technicians at Ragsdale! We can find out the problem and get your light working again, quickly.

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