How to Light the Pilot on a Furnace

When the heat is hard to find, it can lead to troubles way beyond the chill that first occurs. A pilot light that has gone out can be frustrating and even daunting to those who haven't had to figure out how to get that little flame to flare again. It's a good skill to have tucked into your homeowner toolbox so learning how to light a furnace pilot light should be a top priority.

Service Man Working on Furnace
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How to Light the Pilot on a Furnace

Why Pilot Lights Flutter

Some furnaces simply have a finicky flame. They wobble at the slightest breeze and snuff out for no apparent reason. High winds and a downdraft may be the culprit. Check to make sure the pilot light has adequate protection without being stifled from receiving good air flow. If a pilot goes out often, check the gas valve and thermocouple. If those are malfunctioning, the pilot light may be going out to warn that there is a problem. Check the flue or chimney for the issue and make sure that you have proper venting.

Before You Begin

Be prepared with pliers, gloves, matches and a flashlight. Always read up on the appliance before beginning work. Many manuals can be easily located online. If the pilot light doesn't flare up within the first few tries, call the gas company or service company for service. Make sure to put the gas valve into the "off" position.

Lighting a Pilot

Turn off the furnace, fireplace or water heater before you begin work. Find the gas valve and turn the knob to the pilot position from the "on" or "off" position, depending on the model and manufacturer. This may be behind a metal panel or door with instructions. The red button should send gas to the pilot burner. Hold that down, and you should hear a clicking sound. Give it a good 60 seconds for the first time you try to fire up a pilot light. Once the pilot roars to life, let the red button go and you should be all set.

Manual Lighting

Follow the same instructions as an automatic pilot light by turning off the appliance before you begin. Locate the gas valve and switch it to the pilot position. Find the red button and hold it down in order to send the gas to the pilot burner for it to start. Light a match and hold it to the pilot burner, which should be at the end of the tubing for the pilot. A small match can be held with pliers if a long match is unavailable.

Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee

Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing for a variety of clients, including The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal Home section and other national publications. As a professional writer she has researched, interviewed sources and written about home improvement, interior design and related business trends. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her full bio and clips can be viewed at