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When a gas water heater goes out, it’s usually because there was a change in the gas pressure or the pilot light. The pilot light is the sole indicator that your heater is not working properly. If it goes out, and you’re unable to turn it back on, you won’t be able to use warm water. Unfortunately, it could be a sign of something much more dangerous — a leaky gas pipe.
Thus, you need to know what to do in order to prevent gas from being released into your home and causing harm to everyone inside. So, first, let’s talk about what the pilot light is, how it works, and how to relight it when you need to.
How a Pilot Light Works
The pilot light is in charge of providing the heat and the flame to the gas that comes out of the main burner and the gas valve. You can find it on most older furnaces and water heaters. The light should always stay on to indicate whether the heater is running or not.
Additionally, when you want to heat the water, the control valve will start releasing gas into the main burner, and the pilot light will ignite that gas. The pilot light also heats up the thermocouple — a sensor that will automatically turn the gas off once the pilot shuts off.
Needless to say, the pilot plays a major role in the function of a gas water heater. Thus, it’s important to learn how to recognize when it’s not working properly, and we’ll talk more about that next.
Troubleshooting the Pilot Light
Most of the time, you can tell if your water heater is working properly by looking at the pilot light. If everything’s in good condition, the flame should have a bright blue luminosity to it; never a red or yellow one.
If you see a yellow flame, it could signal one of three things:
- A dirty pilot tube
- Insufficient airflow
- Poor gas combustion
Additionally, if the pilot tube is dirty, it could also split the flame in half. The pilot light could also go out because of excessive condensation or poor ventilation. However, if the pilot does not light, it could be a sign that the pilot line is clogged, or there is no hot water in the burner.
All of these things are signals that there’s something amiss with your pilot light. It’s also causing your gas water heater to malfunction. So, now that you know what to look out for, let’s see how you can fix the problem in 3 easy steps.
Relighting a Gas Water Heater in 3 Easy Steps
Before starting to relight your gas water heater, turn the temperature down to the lowest setting. Wait 10 minutes and check if you can smell gas in any part of your house. Do not attempt to light the pilot if you start smelling gas. However, if you don’t notice any strange odors, you can proceed to the first step.
The first step is locating your water heater. If you don’t know where it is, you can check out your owner’s manual. Start by turning the temperature to the lowest levels, and gas valve off. Then, wait for a few minutes before turning it to “pilot.”
Push down on the pilot valve and hold it in place until the gas starts flowing through the supply tube. While you’re holding the pilot valve (or button) down, wait for the indicator to light up, as this usually takes a few seconds. Do not release the button until the pilot heats up the thermocouple.
Turn the dial on, and reset the temperature to “warm.” Next, turn the control on once the pilot light stays on after releasing the button. Now just wait for the burner to ignite — and that’s it! To make sure that the system is up and running, wait for 1 hour before checking the water temperature in your faucets.
If the pilot light won’t stay on after several attempts, you could try calling your utility company or a heater repair expert. Also, if you can smell gas in your home at any point during the process, make sure that you call your local gas company. There are some other things you could check up on if you still can’t get your gas water heater to work properly.
Common Problems and Fixes
More often than not, when a water heater won’t ignite, the thermocouple is to blame. It’s supposed to detect whether your pilot light is on. And if it cools off, the pilot heater shuts down. Here are the 4 most common scenarios.
When the thermocouple is dirty, it will cause issues with your water heater, and the pilot will stop lighting up. To fix the issue, you can turn it off and gently sand it with fine-grit sandpaper.
When the water heater won’t stay lit, it’s because the thermocouple is bent somewhere, so the pilot can’t heat it. Thus, the thermocouple will turn off the gas supply, and your heater won’t do its job. To fix this, gently bend the thermocouple to get it as close to the pilot light as possible.
Dirty pilot tube
If there is a blockage in the pilot tube, the gas heater will just stop working. However, you can easily fix this by using a needle to remove the gunk or debris once the pilot tube cools down.
If you’ve tried everything, and your gas water heater is still broken, it’s possible that your thermocouple is broken beyond repair and needs to be replaced.
As you can see, there are many things that could go wrong with a gas water heater. However, most of them are easily fixable, and it will only take you up to 30 minutes to get everything up and running.
But that’s not to say that there are some scenarios where professional attention is necessary. For example, if you smell gas at any point, or can’t get your gas water heater to stay lit — hire an expert.