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How Do I Light My Pilot?

Q: When we had our gas fireplace installed, the technician lit the pilot for us and we didn't pay any attention to how he did it. Last night we had a heavy windstorm, and the pilot blew out! Our question is, how do we relight the pilot?

Sweepy  First, you should have an overview of what a safety pilot does and how it does it. In a basic safety pilot system the pilot remains lit all heating season, and lights the burners when you call for heat. When the pilot flame is lit, it licks onto a pencil-sized metal tube called a thermopile. The pilot flame is actually burning up the thermopile, but very, very slowly. As the thermopile burns, energy is created in the form of thousandths of a volt (millivolts) of electricity. This electric charge powers a mechanism that holds the gasline open.

Here's why they call it a safety pilot: if anything blows the pilot light out, the thermopile cools down and stops generating the electricity that is holding the gasline open. As soon as that happens, the flow of gas is stopped. In the old days, before there were safety pilots, if anything blew out the burner flame the gas would continue to flow into the room where it might be ignited by a random spark and........ BOOM!

Lighting the pilot is pretty much the same process with all gas stoves:

First, open the door or remove the front glass to prevent pressurization during the lightup process.

Next, depress the ON/OFF/PILOT knob slightly and turn it to the PILOT setting. Now, push in on the same knob with one thumb while clicking the piezo igniter button repeatedly with the other until the pilot lights. The thumb pressure holds the gasline open until the pilot flame can heat up the thermopile, so you must keep the knob depressed for about 45 seconds to give the thermopile time to start generating before you can discontinue the thumb pressure.

If the pilot goes out when you remove your thumb, the thermopile didn't heat up sufficiently to hold the gas line open: wait a couple of minutes and repeat the process until the pilot stays lit with your thumb removed.

Once the pilot remains lit when you take your thumb off the knob, turn the knob to the ON position. With the pilot going and the knob turned to the ON position, you can now light the burners with the manual switch (or thermostat or hand-held remote if you have these).

If you can't get the pilot to stay lit no matter how long you manually hold the gasline open, you might need a new thermopile. These do burn up eventually, and need to be replaced when they're no longer generating enough millivolts to hold the gasline open. 


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