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What You Need to Know About Furnace Pilot Lights

Appliances that run on natural gas, such as some models of furnaces, water heaters, and gas-log fireplaces, all use pilot lights to control the burn of the natural gas. Located near the main burner, furnace pilot lights ignite the gas that is released when the appliance is “turned on.” When the appliance is “turned off,” the pilot light is a small blue flame that is always on.

Why Do Pilot Lights Need to Burn All the Time?

Pilot lights stay ignited because of the tiny amount of gas that is constantly leaking from the pilot light tube. When or if a pilot light is blown out, there is a risk that the gas will continue leaking. If the collected gas were ever to ignite, it can cause an explosion. Each appliance should have a fail-safe that detects whether or not the pilot light is lit so that the gas flow is shut off when/if the pilot light goes out.

The Thermocouple

One of these fail-safes is called a thermocouple, which can operate without the need of outside electricity by generating its own by using heat, specifically the heat of the pilot light’s flame. If the pilot light were ever to blow out and the thermocouple cools, the flow of electricity stops and the valve that releases the pilot light gas closes, preventing the dangerous build-up of gas.

Re-lighting the Pilot Light When/If it Goes Out

There are plenty of how-tos online about how to do this yourself, but an HVAC professional would never recommend that homeowners take the risk. Protect your home and family by always consulting a professional before using an open flame next to your natural gas appliances.

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