There is nothing worse than taking a warm shower and suddenly realizing that only ice-cold water is coming out of the showerhead. You may be sitting there wondering, why does the pilot light keep going out in my water heater?
If your water heater is malfunctioning, it may be good first to check the warranty. Then, contact your company for a completely new water heater if it hasn’t expired.
If you are DIY-inclined, you can also try a few things before calling a licensed plumber to come to fix your water heater.
When your water goes out, the pilot light is the first thing to check. A pilot light is the part of a gas water heater with a small blue flame. This flame must stay lit because it burns petroleum gas to produce heat.
Gas water heaters burn petroleum gas to heat the water in the tank to have warm water in your home. If your water is cold, your pilot flame may be out.
First Thing’s First: Making Sure You Are Safe
First and foremost, check to ensure there is no gas outage in your area. Then, before you try anything else, make sure you turn the gas knob completely off. This simple safety precaution could save your life. If you leave the gas valve on, it could cause gas leaks into the air of your home that has the potential to be deadly.
After turning off the gas valve, let the water heater sit for a few minutes. This allows the heat and the gas to completely disperse before you start working on your water heater.
All of the controls you will need are on an access panel that looks similar to this.
Why does the pilot light go out on a water heater?
You may be thinking: my water heater pilot light keeps going out. So why is this happening again and again?
The good news is, most of the time, the pilot light is going out because there is dirt or debris built up somewhere in your water heater. It would help if you cleaned out this dirt buildup so that your gas supply is not cut off from the rest of the water heater.
Here are a few other common problems with the water heater pilot light can be easily solved.
Check for a dirty pilot tube.
One of the most common reasons for a malfunctioning pilot light flame is a dirty pilot tube. Fortunately, this is a common problem with an easy fix. You can simply clean dirty pilot tubes with a buildup of dirt.
To clean a dirty pilot tube, use a long safety pin, thin needle, or blast of air to clean any dirt or debris out of the pilot tube. This will let the furnace pilot light stay lit and heat your water thoroughly. A clean pilot tube will produce a steady, small flame.
Check for any thermocouple issues.
The thermocouple part of the water heater may be what is causing some issues with your water heater pilot light. The thermocouple detects when the pilot light is off and closes the gas valve.
Essentially the brain of the water heater, the thermocouple senses an unlit pilot light and works as a safety device. It protects against gas leaks.
A dirty thermocouple may be the reason your pilot light keeps going out. This is because a dirty thermocouple cannot detect the electric current, and therefore the gas line will be cut off to protect your home from any gas leaks.
After turning off the water heater, clean the dirty thermocouple with sandpaper if necessary to get all the dirt and grime off of the device. Once it is clean, you can reattach and see if the pilot light issues are solved. Next, use a long lighter to try and re-light the pilot light flame.
If, after a thorough cleaning, the water heater pilot light keeps going out, check for a faulty thermocouple.
A Damaged Thermocouple
The thermocouple may be kinked or broken. If the damaged thermocouple is even slightly kinked or bent, the electric current may not be able to reach the thermocouple. As a result, the thermocouple will cut off the gas supply, and the water heater pilot light will not ignite.
Try manually straightening out the thermocouple after turning off the gas supply and waiting for it to cool. It needs to be close enough to the pilot light that it touches or wraps around the blue flame.
There may be a bigger problem if your pilot light won’t stay lit after fixing the kinks and thoroughly cleaning the thermocouple.
A Broken Thermocouple
A broken thermocouple is one of the potentially significant issues for a water heater. If your thermocouple is not working correctly, then your water heater pilot light won’t stay lit. As a result, you may need to replace the damaged thermocouple.
Check your water heater for flex tube problems.
If the thermocouple seems to be working correctly, a faulty flex tube is the next thing to check for. The flex tube is the section of the gas water heater that connects the gas controller to the gas burner.
This central control valve contains the thermocouple, pilot tube, and pilot light. If the flex tube is clogged up or damaged, the gas cannot get to the main burner, and the pilot light will go out.
To clean the flex tube, run off the gas and let it cool before removing the tube. Check the tube for any kinks, debris, or any space for gas leaks. The gas flow must reach the thermocouple and igniting button for the flame to burn properly.
After straightening the tube and removing debris, reattach the tube to the gas valve. Test the water heater to see if the pilot light flame ignites.
Check the Main Control Gas Valve
If you have tried all of the above repairs to fix your water heater with no luck, the issue may be the main control valve.
The main control valve is the most important part of the water heater, regulating both gas pressure and water pressure. This device provides a small amount of gas to the thermocouple until the pilot light ignites. It then provides a steady gas flow to the burner, keeping the flame alive.
If the main control valve is no longer functional, it will cut the gas supply from the burner, putting out the pilot light completely.
You cannot fix a faulty main control valve. Instead, replace the part completely.
Call a Technician to Check the Electrical System
At this point, if none of the DIY solutions have solved your issues, it may be time to call in a technician to fix your water heater. The wiring in your water heater may be faulty. Only professionals should work with a faulty electrical system.
If your water heater suddenly shuts down completely, this is an indicator that you need to call the main office of your local water heater supplier. Do not try to fix a faulty electrical system on your own.
My water heater pilot light keeps going out. How do I fix it?
If your pilot light keeps going out, focus on fixing the areas around the pilot flame. The thermocouple and pilot tube are two areas that can be dirty in many water heaters and need a thorough cleaning.
Ensure that you also test the thermocouple and flex tube without kinks and that the gas flow reaches the pilot light.
If, after ensuring that these areas are straightened out, cleaned, and not broken, the pilot light still does not turn on, you may need to call a professional to look at more serious issues, such as a bad electrical system or main control valve.
Related: How to flush a hot water heater
Water Heater Pilot Light FAQ
Why does my water heater pilot keep going out?
Most likely, your water heater pilot light keeps going out because the gas flow is not reaching the main burner. After turning off your water heater and gas supply to protect the air in your home, straighten out and clean parts of the access panel. This will typically solve these issues.
How do you know if you have a bad thermocouple?
The first indication of a bad thermocouple is cold water. A faulty thermocouple will shut off the pilot light and stop heating your water.
A bad thermocouple can be bent, broken, or just dirty. After detaching the thermocouple from the water heater, clean it and ensure it is straightened out and not broken. Then try reattaching to see if your pilot light issues are solved.
Why does my pilot light go out when I release the pilot light knob?
If the pilot light flame does not stay lit as soon as you release the pilot knob, your thermocouple is likely broken. This part of the water heater control panel needs replacing.
What do you do if your pilot light won’t stay lit?
If your pilot light doesn’t stay lit, evaluate the different parts of the control panel. You may need to replace one of the parts.
What causes a pilot light to go out on a water heater?
The pilot light goes out on a water heater because there is no gas flow to the flame. This means the water heater is not heating the water.
Why does my hot water heater keep kicking off?
A water heater can keep kicking off because there is no gas flow to the main control valve. In addition, a part of the control panel may be broken and need replacement.
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