How to Light Your Water Heater

Anyone who has ever run their water for a shower or other use and discovered that the water refused to get hot may be dealing with a water heater that has a pilot light that needs to be re-lit. Fortunately, most people can light their pilot light on their unit without needing special tools or calling in a professional plumber to perform water heater repair.

If you need to light or re-light your heater, the procedure is fairly simple.

Sacramento, CA Lighting-water-heatersDiagnose the Problem

The first thing you’ll need to do is assess the situation to determine if an extinguished pilot light is the reason why your water is not being heated.

Most heaters have a small panel near the base of the unit that allows access to the pilot light. Open up the small panel following the instructions on the unit and look inside. If you see a small flame similar to a candle then your pilot light is operating correctly. If you do not see any flame, then it is likely that an extinguished pilot light is the problem and you need to re-light it.

Some newer models of water heaters do not come with an access panel, instead relying on a transparent window or port to view the pilot light. Put your face near the viewing window and look for a small flame similar to that of a candle. If no flame is visible, then your pilot light will need to be re-lit.

If you do see an operational pilot light (visible candle-like flame), then something else aside from the pilot light is causing the problem of failing to heat the water. If you cannot determine the cause of the problem, the best course of action is to call in a professional Sacramento area plumber who can help you with water heater repair issues.

Take Precautions Before You Light

A gas leak can cause a fire or an explosion if you attempt to re-light your pilot light. Before attempting to re-ignite your pilot light, take some basic precautions to make sure that there is no gas leaking into the area from your heater.

  • Stand about two paces from your water heater and close your eyes. Using your nose, see if you can detect any odor of gas or other unusual smells.
  • Walk around your heater, performing the same odor test to see if you can detect the presence of natural gas in the air.
  • Get down on your knees and approach the heater. Using your nose, take several deep inhalations as close as you can to any visible valves, pipes, or exterior tubing on the tank of the heater.
  • While in close proximity to the heater, listen attentively for any hissing sounds or noise that might indicate that gas is leaking from the unit.

Natural gas has no odor in its natural state but utility companies add an odor called mercaptan to natural gas that smells like rotten eggs or sulfur. If you detect even a slight trace of gas odor, immediately vacate the area and call your gas utility company promptly. Follow their instructions explicitly.

Never attempt to re-light the pilot light if you detect even a small amount of gas odor or hear a hissing noise coming from the unit.

Follow Instructions

If you are completely sure that there is no leaking gas in and around your heater then you can proceed to re-ignite the pilot light.

Most heating units come with a detailed step-by-step guide on how to rekindle the pilot light. This information may be included with the paperwork that came with your heater or be posted on the inside of the access panel on the unit itself. If you don’t have the original paperwork and there is no guide posted on the heater, then look online for information about your specific model of heater and how to re-ignite the pilot light.

Once you have learned the procedure for reigniting your pilot light, it is time to proceed.

Sacramento, CA Lighting-water-heaters-2How to Light Your Water Heater

First, set your unit’s temperature control setting to the lowest possible temperature. Many units have a dial on the outside of the heater that can be turned to adjust the temperature.

Once the temperature is set to its lowest possible setting, you’ll need to find the regulator valve. Most regulator valves are located very close to the temperature control dial or control panel. The purpose of the regulator valve is to manage how much gas is flowing into the bottom of the tank.

If your regulator valve has a control dial, change it to the “off” position. After the regulator valve has been turned off, you’ll have to wait about 10-15 minutes to allow time for all of the remaining gas in the unit to dissipate into the environment.

After the gas has been cleared, turn the control dial on the regulator valve to the “Pilot” position. Many modern gas heaters have an ignition switch. If your water heater is a newer model, hold down the button while the control dial is in the “Pilot” position until you hear some clicking noises and see the pilot light become successfully re-ignited. It is extremely important to continue to hold the button for a full minute after the pilot light is successfully re-lit.

For older model heaters, the procedure is similar except that you’ll have to introduce your own ignition source to re-ignite the pilot light. Some people use special barbecue lighters (similar to cigarette lighters except much longer) or kitchen matches (longer than regular matches) in order to maneuver an open flame into the access panel that houses the pilot light. For people without special matches or lighters, a regular match can be taped onto the end of a stick or mop handle. Never try to use a regular match or cigarette lighter unaided as the flame can easily burn your fingers.

The pilot is usually a small metallic tube that is found at the base of the control valve. If you have difficulty locating it, use a flashlight. Once the pilot has been located, use matches or a barbecue lighter to kindle the pilot while making sure that the control dial on the heater is set to “Pilot”. Push down on the “Pilot” button while introducing the flame to the pilot. After the pilot light has been successfully re-ignited, continue to hold down on the “Pilot” button for a full minute.

Final Steps

After a full minute of steady flame, release the “Pilot” light button or control knob. Once again, look in the area of the pilot light to see if there is a steady flame similar to a candle. If the pilot light is burning after a full minute, then you have successfully re-lit your Sacramento home’s heater.

Be sure to safely extinguish any matches you have used. Close or replace the access panel on your heater.

Once everything is in place, locate the control knob or dial and move it to the “On” position. Now adjust the temperature control to your preferred setting. You should be able to hear the sound of the heater at the base of the tank begin to light as it starts heating water to your desired temperature.

For assistance with water heater maintenance or repair make sure to call VanGo Rooter in Sacramento, CA at (415) 779-0009.