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What is a Water Heater Pilot Light and Can it Be Fixed?

Oct 17, 2023



A water heater is a vital appliance that ensures you can access hot water for your daily needs. However, sometimes the hot water runs out because the pilot light in the heater has been extinguished. 


Let’s explore the significance of the pilot light, common reasons why it may extinguish, and step-by-step instructions on how to relight it.

What is a Pilot Light on a Water Heater?

The pilot light on a water heater is a small, constantly burning flame that ignites the gas burner whenever hot water is needed. It serves as an ignition source for the heating process, allowing the gas burner to provide the necessary heat to warm the water in the tank — water you and your family will use to shower, wash dishes, and more.

Where Can You Find Your Water Heater Pilot Light?

You'll need to access the burner compartment to locate the pilot light on your water heater. Most water heaters have an access panel that can be removed to reveal the burner assembly. When working properly, your pilot light will look like a steady blue flame. If you don’t see a flame, that’s a sign that the light has been extinguished.

Why Does My Water Heater Pilot Light Keep Going Out?

Several factors may be the cause if your water heater's pilot light keeps going out. Let's explore some of the common culprits.


In certain situations, condensation can form on the pilot light, causing it to go out. This can occur when there is a sudden drop in temperature or when the water heater is located in a particularly humid environment. Condensation disrupts the flame, extinguishing the pilot light.


To prevent condensation from extinguishing your water heater's pilot light, ensure the area around the heater is well-ventilated. Increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan. 

Improper Venting or Air Supply

Adequate airflow is crucial for the pilot light to burn consistently. If there is insufficient air supply or improper venting, the pilot light may struggle to stay lit. This could be due to vent system blockages or obstructions around the water heater. Remove any blockages around your water heater, or call a professional plumber to check your water heater’s ventilation system.

Light or Tube Is Dirty

Over time, dirt, dust, and debris can accumulate on the pilot light or the tube that feeds gas to it. This buildup can interfere with the proper functioning of the flame, causing it to go out. Regular cleaning and maintenance can help prevent this issue.

Issues with the Thermocouple

The thermocouple is a safety device that detects whether the pilot light is burning. If the thermocouple is faulty or misaligned, it may shut off the gas supply, causing the pilot light to go out. A malfunctioning thermocouple requires professional attention to ensure proper repair or replacement.

How to Relight Your Water Heater Pilot Light

Now that we've discussed the common reasons for a pilot light going out, let's go through the step-by-step process of relighting it. Please exercise caution and follow these instructions carefully. Remember: when in doubt, call a professional. CroppMetcalfe is always here to help with pilot light issues in your water heater.

Turn Off the Gas

Locate the gas control valve near the bottom of the water heater and turn the knob to the "off" position. If you're unsure, consult the user’s manual or contact a professional.

Check For Any Leaks

Before proceeding, inspect the area around the water heater for a gas smell. If you detect a gas leak, immediately turn off the gas supply and seek professional assistance.

Ignite the Pilot Light

Now, locate the pilot light assembly. Depending on the model, you may need to remove a cover or access panel. Once exposed, you'll see the pilot light and the control knob. Turn the control knob to the "pilot" position and hold it down. While holding it down, use a long-reach lighter or a fireplace match to ignite the pilot light so you don’t get too close.

Keep Holding the Control Knob

After the pilot light ignites, continue holding the control knob down for about one minute. This duration allows the thermocouple to heat up and signal that the pilot light is burning steadily.

Release the Control Knob

Carefully release the control knob and observe the pilot light. It should remain lit. If it goes out, wait a few minutes and repeat the process, ensuring you hold the control knob down long enough.

Turn On the Gas

Once the pilot light remains lit, turn the gas control valve back on. The water heater should now function as usual. The water may take up to three hours to heat inside the tank. 


The pilot light is a critical component of your water heater, and understanding its significance and troubleshooting common issues can save you from uncomfortable cold showers. If you encounter persistent problems with your pilot light or are unsure about relighting it yourself, it's best to consult a professional plumber

Call CroppMetcalfe for All Your Water Heater Repairs

CroppMetcalfe is the #1 trusted name in plumbing for the Maryland, DC, and Virginia areas. We’re ready and able to help you with any plumbing needs at any time. From installing new water heaters to repairing your existing ones, we’re here to solve all your plumbing problems. Contact us today to find out how we can make sure you keep your hot water running.



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