One of the most common problems that can develop with older water heaters is the pilot light flame going out. When this happens, your burners won’t ignite and your home’s water will be freezing cold. Today we’re going to talk about why your water heater’s pilot light might go out and what you should do if it happens to you!

Why does a water heater’s pilot light go out?

Some of the most common reasons that water heater pilot lights go out include:

  • A faulty thermocouple. Your thermocouple is responsible for sensing when your pilot light is lit. If it senses that the pilot light has gone out, the thermocouple shuts off the gas supply to the flame in order to prevent safety issues with your water heater. Over time, thermocouples can begin to malfunction and shut off the gas supply to the pilot light even if it’s burning properly.
  • A bent or dirty thermocouple. In addition to normal malfunctioning, your thermocouple can suffer from dirt buildup or the device can get bent away from your pilot light’s flame. In either case, the thermocouple will have a harder time sensing your pilot light and it will shut off the flame’s gas supply.
  • Flame was blown out. If you’re water heater doesn’t have a sealed combustion chamber, it’s possibly that the pilot light can be blown out due to a strong draft near your unit.
  • Not enough combustible air. Not enough combustible air.   If your water heater is located in a utility closet or anywhere it is starved for combustible air, the pilot light may go out.  This situation could also lead to a build-up of Carbon Monoxide, which can be life threatening.

What should you do when your water heater’s pilot light goes out?

If this is the first time your water heater’s pilot light has gone out, or if it hasn’t happened in a long time, then you can attempt to relight the flame on your own. For instructions on how to do this with your particular water heater, contact Cabrillo or refer to your unit’s instruction manual. In general, the process will look something like this:

1. Turn the thermostat to the lowest setting

2. Turn the on/off/pilot switch to the “pilot” position

3. Remove the outer and inner panels to access your pilot light

4. Hold down the pilot button and use a long lighter or match to ignite the flame (some water heaters will not have a pilot button and can be lit without pressing anything)

5. After the flame is lit, hold down the pilot button for about 60 seconds and ensure that the flame stays lit and is burning bright blue

6. Turn knob to ON position by setting it on your desired temperature. We recommend setting it on ‘A’.

7. Replace the access panels and turn the thermostat back to its normal temperature setting

Contact Cabrillo if your water heater’s pilot light continues to go out

If your pilot light goes out frequently, or if it is not burning bright blue, contact Cabrillo. The problem is likely something similar to what we mentioned above (such as a faulty or dirty thermocouple), and it will need to be taken care of by a professional plumber.

If you have any questions about what to do if your water heater’s pilot light goes out, or if you’d like a plumbing system serviced or installed in your home, contact Jerry Kelly, your Bay Area plumbing, heating and air conditioning contractor.