Is It Dangerous For The Water Heater Pilot Light To Go Out?

Patricia Oelze
by Patricia Oelze

If you jumped in the shower and could not get any hot water, the pilot light on your water heater may have gone out. As soon as your teeth stop chattering, you need to head down to the water heater and take a look. While it is not typically dangerous for the water heater pilot light to go out, you will need to relight it if you want hot water.

It is not dangerous for the water heater pilot light to go out, but it makes your shower extremely chilly. Relight the pilot light, but if you notice a rotten egg smell near your water heater, stop — it might be gas. If gas is leaking from the water heater, lighting the pilot could ignite it. Turn off the gas, exit your home and call the gas company.

Before lighting the pilot light, you may want to try to figure out why the pilot light went out in the first place. If it is something malfunctioning in the water heater, it will just happen again if you do not fix the problem. We will go over some of the most common causes that pilot lights go out after explaining how to relight the pilot light.

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Is It Dangerous For The Water Heater Pilot Light To Go Out?

Most modern water heaters have a valve that controls the pilot light — the valve closes when the pilot light goes out. When the valve closes, it shuts off the gas supply.

There are several reasons why the pilot light on your water heater may go out, and not all of them are dangerous. Sometimes, it might be a simple breeze that blew out the pilot light, making it an inconvenience, but not dangerous. However, other times, it could be something more hazardous (and costly), like a malfunctioning thermocouple.

If your hot water suddenly starts running cold, your first stop should be to check your water heater’s pilot light to see if it is out. Open the door or cover of the access to the pilot light, usually under the gas valve.

Some models of water heaters don’t have a cover or this area, but just an open gap where you can see the burner. You can use a headlamp or flashlight if it is dark or difficult to see.

Read through these causes to see what may be causing the pilot light in your water heater to go out.

It’s Not Dangerous For Water Heater Pilot Light To Go Out If Just A Blown Out Flame

It could have just been a strong gust of air that blew out the pilot light. If this is the case, it’s not dangerous for the water heater pilot light to go out.

Some older water heaters do not have a sealed combustion chamber, so the flame has no protection from the wind. This can be especially true if your water heater is near a door or window that may have drafts.

If the pilot light only goes out once, then this is likely the reason. But, if your pilot light keeps going out, then there is likely something more serious happening. A water heater pilot light that goes out constantly can signal a more dangerous problem.

Does A Lack Of Combustible Air Make It Dangerous For A Water Heater Pilot Light To Go Out?

If the water heater is in a closet or another enclosed space, it may not be getting enough air to keep the pilot light going. All fire needs oxygen to keep burning and if there is not enough air, your pilot light will go out. This can also lead to a dangerous carbon monoxide buildup.

A Dirty Or Bent Thermocouple

The thermocouple’s job is to sense whether or not the pilot light is lit. If the pilot light goes out, the thermocouple should turn off the pilot light to prevent a buildup of dangerous fumes.

Dirt can accumulate on the thermocouple and cause it to have a harder time sensing that the pilot light is lit, making it shut off the gas to the pilot. It can also become bent away from the flame, causing the same issue.

If you find this is the case, clean it or bend it back to where it belongs — carefully.

A Broken Thermocouple

If the thermocouple doesn’t appear dirty or bent, you may need a new thermocouple. Although they usually last for a long time, they do go out occasionally.

A malfunctioning thermocouple will continue to shut off the gas supply to the pilot light, so it goes out constantly for no reason. You will need a professional to replace the thermocouple.

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Relighting The Water Heater Pilot Light

First, check for the smell of gas. The gas itself has no odor, but companies use an additive to give it a distinct rotten egg smell to warn people about a potential leak.

If you do not smell gas, go ahead and relight the pilot light. You can do this by following these simple steps:

  • Set your water heater thermostat on the lowest setting.
  • Turn the pilot light switch to the pilot position.
  • Take off the panels to get to the pilot light.
  • Holding down the ignite or pilot button, use a lighter or long match to relight the flame. Note: Not all water heaters have an ignite or pilot button. If you do not see one, you should be able to light the flame without pressing anything.
  • Once you have the flame lit, keep holding down the ignite or pilot button for one minute to keep the flame burning. Make sure it is burning a bright blue.
  • Turn the setting back to on and set it to heating position to A or whatever setting it was at before.
  • Put the access panels back on and turn the thermostat back to the right temperature.

Related Questions

What are the benefits of a sealed combustion chamber?

A sealed combustion chamber uses air from outside to keep the flame burning. There will be a pipe that brings in air from outside to the water heater and another one to send the exhaust back out. You can find these on home heating systems as well as water heaters.The benefits of a sealed combustion chamber are:

  • It Keeps the Fumes Out — This type of combustion is safer since it keeps the exhaust fumes from leaking into your home. As long as the pipes going into and out of your house are sealed, you will have no worries about gas, carbon monoxide, or other dangerous fumes.
  • It is Much Quieter and Cleaner — With the sealed burner, you will not have to worry about the pilot light going out from wind or air blowing on it. They are also quieter because the compartments are sealed to keep the noise out.
  • You Will Not Be Heating the Air Twice —Since the air comes from outside, the heater doesn’t have to take any of the warm air from inside your house to light the pilot and keep it burning. You don’t want your nice warm air being sucked up and sent outside.
What color should the pilot light flame be?

A water heater that is working correctly should have a bright blue flame on the pilot light. You may even see a yellow tip at the top. Your gas water heater uses methane gas, which always burns blue. If the color of the water heater’s pilot light flame changes, it could be a dangerous situation.

If the flame is burning green, yellow, or red, some other type of material is burning with the methane. It may be grime, oil, or rust, and this can be very dangerous. Anything other than methane burning may be toxic to breathe. And if your pilot light is yellow, it could mean a carbon monoxide leak. If you notice that your pilot light is not blue, shut it off, get everyone out, and call the gas company.

What are the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning?

If your pilot light goes out, it should not be sending out carbon monoxide. The main source of carbon monoxide poisoning is a faulty heat exchanger or dirty equipment in your heating system. But just to be on the safe side, here are some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Nausea
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headaches

Signs of gas poisoning are the same as with carbon monoxide, but you can smell gas if it is leaking. That rotten egg smell will let you know to turn off the gas and call the gas company. Carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless, so it is harder to detect. The best way to do that is by having carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

Patricia Oelze
Patricia Oelze

I am a DIYer who loves writing about anything home-related. When I am not writing, you can find me studying for my PhD in Psychology, photographing nature, and swimming at the lake with my grandkids.

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