A water heater pilot light is used to ignite the gas that heats the water. You may go for a long time and not realize that your pilot light has been faithfully serving you.
When the pilot light stops working you do not have hot water. Then you notice. A malfunctioning pilot light may be a sign of another problem. It could be that it just needs to be lit again.
There are (4) Key Topics related to this subject. (1) Why it is important to 'Follow the Instructions', (2) 'Using an Ingnitor' to light your pilot light, (3) 'Manually Lighting a Pilot Light' and (4) Other pilot light issues like the 'Thermocouple'. Use one of these links to find what you need or read the overview below.
Don't they have electronic ignition systems that will just light the gas when needed? Yes, they do. Most gas furnaces have such a system. Why don't water heaters? They do, but it is a matter of cost. A high efficiency hot water heater with electronic ignition will run you a $1,000 or more. Whereas, a standard gas model might be as little as $350.
The added cost results in the majority of units still using a water heater pilot light. This article will help you with the issues that a pilot light can cause.
A serviceman that comes out will likely tell you your problem is a defective thermocouple. The bill for replacing it will be between $125 and $150. Up selling you to a new water heater is also a possibility. Plan on $800 to $1,500 if that happens.
Lighting a water heater pilot light is not that hard. It should take less than ten minutes.
You're at the simplest problem you can have with a gas hot water heater. Sorry, there is nothing easier.
A pilot light that won't stay lit may be indicative of a more serious problem. You will be without hot water if you cannot fix it. You can get a lot of complaining when this happens.
There are two types of pilot lights that you may need to deal with. The older style that requires a match to light it. Then there are the newer ones that have an ignitor. Some high efficiency hot water heaters use and electronic ignition and do not have a pilot light. They don't have a pilot light at all.
Gas water heaters are equipped with a thermocouple. The thermocouple senses when the pilot light is lit. When the thermocouple goes bad it will not send the right signals to the gas valve. When that happens the gas valve will turn off and the burner will night light. Additionally the water heater pilot light will go out.
Does the pilot light refuse to stay lit? There is a good chance you have a bad thermocouple. For instructions on how to change it, see 'Gas Water Heater Thermocouple' for instructions on what to do.
The 'Next' section discusses 'Pilot Light Instructions'. Check the 'Home Repair Topics Menu' at the top of the page, if this is not your problem.