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How to Light a Pilot Light on a Water Heater

If the pilot light on a water heater goes out the appliance cannot operate. In order to get the water heater working again there is a sequence of steps to follow to get the pilot relit. Note that some models have an electronic ignition and thus do not use a standing pilot light.

Caution: Please read our safety information before attempting any maintenance, installation or repair. If you are not comfortable attempting to light a pilot light, if you do not understand these instructions or if your appliance differs from the description below, do not attempt to light the pilot. In fact, most gas utility companies will come out and light the pilot for you, in many cases at no charge. You may smell a small amount of gas from the pilot light itself. If you smell gas, don't try to light the pilot. If you smell a strong odor of gas or suspect a gas leak, exit your home. Do not use your phone, do not turn any switches on or off, just leave the door open as you leave. Call the fire department or gas company from a neighbor's phone.

These instructions may differ from those printed on your water heater or in the instruction manual that came with the water heater. Always follow the manufacturer's directions.

Turn the pilot knob to "OFF" and wait 5 minutes for any residual gas to clear. If after 5 minutes you do not smell gas, then proceed to the next step.

If your water heater has an electric igniter, you should not need to open any access hatch, although there should be an observation port so you can see the pilot and burner flame. If your pilot requires a match to light, then there should be one or more cover plates that must be opened in order to access the pilot light. Open the cover plates and use a flashlight to locate the pilot. It will be positioned near and just under the burner, which looks something like a gas burner on a stove. You may need long stick matches or an extended length lighter to reach the pilot.

Once you locate the pilot, turn the knob on the control to "PILOT", light your match and insert it next to the pilot, then press and hold the red button. Continue to depress the knob while lighting and for roughly one minute after the pilot is lit. Electric models have an igniter button to press instead of using a match. Press the ignitor button one or more times until the pilot is lit.

If the pilot does not stay lit after you release the red button, repeat the process and hold the knob down for a slightly longer period. If the pilot stays lit, then turn the knob to the "ON" position.

If the pilot does not light at all, then you may have another problem such as a faulty thermocouple. Turn off the gas. You can diagnose the problem, contact your gas company or contact a qualified service person.

After you successfully light the pilot, check your temperature setting. The recommended temperature to reduce the risk of scalding is 120 degrees (F). At 145 degrees (F) a scald injury can occur in only a few seconds.

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