Everyone loves some accessible hot water, whether it’s a hot shower on a cold winter morning before work or a steamy bath to help overcome a bad cold. We rely on our water heaters to provide this modern luxury whenever we please, but at one point or another, you have probably let the water run for a while before realizing that the water isn’t heating up at all. While there could be a number of issues with your water heater, the most consistent one (for gas water heaters) is a pilot light that keeps going out. Here are more than a few things you can try to keep that flame going before you decide to give your local Ace Hi water heater technician a call.

How Does My Water Heater Pilot Light Work?

The pilot light is the small flame fueled and lit by a gas burner at the base of your water heater. This gas flame heats up the metal pipe inside your water heater which heats up your water, but like any common lighter or grill igniter, you need both flame and gas for the light to stay lit.

Why Won’t My Pilot Light Stay Lit and What Can I Do?

If the pilot light won’t even light at all, the first thing you should check is the gas line/supply and ensure everything is connected properly and there isn’t any leak. If it does light, but won’t stay lit, there are a few things that could be causing the problem:

  • Not enough air: If your water heater is located in a confined space that has little or stagnant air flow like a closet or a stuffy basement, the flame of your pilot light may be struggling to stay lit because it is starved of combustible oxygen. If this is the case, carbon-monoxide could be building up in this area which would be extremely hazardous, so make sure there is sufficient airflow and ventilation by opening up the area around the water heater or using a small fan
  • Too much air: If the combustion chamber where the gas burner sits at the base of the water heater isn’t sealed properly, the pilot light could be consistently being blown out by a strong draft or a change in outer air pressure. Check the inside and outside of the water heater base and confirm there are no cracks or improperly connected panels. Also, see where the nearest air vent is and make sure it isn’t compromised and creating a downdraft directed at the water heater.
  • Thermocouple issues: If you have ruled out any airflow issues, then there is a good chance that you are having a problem with your water heaters thermocouple. This is a very common issue with gas water heaters and there are a few things you might want to know about their function and possible issues before you get an Ace Hi technician on the job.

Thermocouple Issues and What To Do Next

The role of the thermocouple is to control the gas flow to the gas burner, and it is a key safety component of a water heater unit. It essentially senses the presence of a burning flame and turns off the gas flow when there is no flame, to prevent gas buildup. Lighting your own water heaters pilot light requires holding the “Pilot” button to control gas flow as you light it. But when you let the button go, the thermocouple takes control and uses its flame sensor to determine if the gas should be flowing or not. 

Issues with water heater thermocouples are common, and you can do some poking around to determine what exactly the issue is, and if you can fix it yourself. If you remove the access panel over the pilot light and inspect the gas burner, you should be able to see a cylindrical metal piece next to the gas valve and igniter. That is the thermocouple, and there are a few things you can do to determine the issue.

  • If the thermocouple is dirty: A dirty thermocouple might struggle to sense the pilot light’s flame and therefore not allow gas to flow. Gentle sanding with some fine sandpaper might do enough to clean the thermocouple sensor and allow your pilot light to stay lit.
  • If the thermocouple is bent: A bent thermocouple might not be close enough to the flame to sense it and provide gas. Gently bending the thermocouple as close as possible to the gas valve (where the flame comes out) might fix this issue, although keep in mind that the thermocouple could break.
  • If the thermocouple is damaged/breaks: If the thermocouple breaks while you are bending it, or if it is damaged beyond repair, you will need to replace it. Most hardware stores sell replacement thermocouples, but replacing one is an intricate and complex process, and at that point it might be time to call your local Ace Hi water heater technician.    

Pilot Lights That Don’t Stay Lit Are a Pain and Ace Hi is Here to Help

Water heaters are an important part of our everyday lives and when something goes wrong with them, it can feel a little daunting to try to fix it on your own, especially if you don’t consider yourself very handy. But hopefully this information allows you to feel a little more in control of the situation and capable of figuring out the issue yourself. If not, our Ace Hi technicians in Fort Collins are more than happy to help out and give you the peace of mind and the hot shower you need.