My Hot Water Heater Pilot Light Won't Stay Lit

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There can be several reasons your hot water heater pilot light won't stay lit.
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A gas water heater is a common way to heat water for your home. However, if the water heater pilot light keeps going out, the tank won't be able to provide hot water. Finding the reason for the pilot light's continual switching off is key to fixing it. Always use caution when working around a gas water heater, and get help from a professional if you're not confident in what you're doing.

Water Heater Pilot Light Basics

Pilot lights are used in gas appliances and are small, bluish flames that connect to a tube. The pilot light in a water heater ignites the gas burner and thus heats the water in the tank. It needs to stay lit at all times for the water heater to work properly. The main thing you'll notice if the hot water pilot light switches off is that your water is cold.

Why It Won’t Stay Lit

The primary reason a pilot light won't stay lit is simply equipment malfunction. If you've checked everything else and the light continually goes out, this is probably the cause. In this case, you may need to replace your pilot light.

A pilot light can also keep going out because of a problem with the thermocouple. The thermocouple is designed to check the temperature of the pilot light and allow gas to flow to it if it's hot enough. If the thermocouple senses the temperature is too low, it will cut the gas supply for safety reasons.

However, if the thermocouple is broken or placed in the wrong position, it can cut the gas unnecessarily. If this is the case, you may need to replace or reposition your thermocouple. The water heater thermocouple is a copper piece going from the gas valve to the burners, and it can be tightened with a wrench.

Relighting the Pilot Light

Don't try to relight the pilot light if you smell gas around the appliance, as there could be a gas leak. Contact your gas company if you suspect a leak. To restart the pilot light, you'll first need to locate the gas pressure valve for your tank and switch it off. Then wait for at least five minutes for the pressure to disperse. The gas valve regulator can be found where the gas pipe enters the tank.

Your water heater pilot light is underneath the water heater. It will likely have an access cover which can be opened by hand, and you may also need a flashlight to get a better look at the light. Turn the gas valve to "pilot" and press it down to make gas flow into the pilot light. Push the button button marked "ignition" while the gas is flowing. If your heater is older, it may require manual relighting; use a long barbecue lighter for this.

Keep the "pilot" setting on for a couple of minutes to check that the pilot light is staying lit. If it is, you can switch the knob to "on." You should hear the gas ignite.

Pilot Light Safety Tips

Working with fire and gas can be very dangerous. If, for any reason, you suspect a malfunction in your gas tank or a gas leak, call emergency services and explain what's happening. Always be aware of drafts from open windows or vents when working on your gas tank. If you have tried these water heater troubleshooting methods for your pilot light and it still does not work properly, it's best to call a professional to check the efficacy and safety of your tank.

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Annie Walton Doyle is a freelance writer based in Manchester, UK. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, The Daily Telegraph, Professional Photography Magazine, Bustle, Ravishly and more. When not writing, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature and mysteries.

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