10361495395_468950018e_mThere have been a number of advancements made in furnaces over the past few decades that allow newer systems to work better than ever. Some of these advancements have even eliminated certain common problems that used to plague older systems. One such example of this is the switch from traditional standing pilot lights to electronic ignitions. But many homes still have furnaces with traditional pilot lights, and owners of these systems should be aware of the problems that pilot lights can develop. Today were going to talk about common furnace pilot light problems that occur in older heating systems and why you should consider installing a system that uses a more efficient ignition system!

What is a traditional pilot light?

When natural gas is delivered to your furnace, it needs a way to ignite. In older furnaces, a standing pilot light is used for this purpose. A traditional standing pilot light is a small flame that burns constantly inside of your furnace, regardless of whether or not your system is in a heating cycle. When your furnace is ready to begin a heating cycle, the pilot light is used to ignite the burners. After a heating cycle is complete, the pilot light remains lit until the next cycle is ready to begin.

Common problems with traditional standing pilot lights

  • Pilot light blows out. The most common and well-known problem with pilot lights is that the flame can blow out. Sometimes this can happen simply due to a strong draft nearby. Other times, the thermocouple in your furnace might manually shut off the pilot light for safety reasons. Either way, a pilot light must be manually relit after it is blown out. Check your system’s owner’s manual for instructions on how to relight your pilot light. If your pilot light is blowing out repeatedly, there is likely a problem with your system that should be inspected and taken care of by a professional contractor like Hyde’s.
  • Pilot light burns inefficiently. The flames from traditional pilot lights should burn a bright blue color. If your pilot light’s flame is orange or yellow, it is burning inefficiently due to a lack of oxygen. The thermocouple should sense when this happens because the heat from the flame will not be as hot as it should be. If you notice that your pilot light’s flame is burning a color other than blue, contact Hyde’s so that we can fix the problem. Even if the inefficient flame isn’t causing any problems at the moment, it likely will down the line and it can also indicate that the flame is releasing carbon monoxide into the air.
  • Dirt builds up on the intake valve. One of the reasons why a pilot light can start to burn inefficiently is that dirt can build up on its gas intake valve. When this happens, the flame’s oxygen supply will be restricted. You can avoid this problem by getting a furnace tune-up every year, when we’ll clean the intake valve, and also by changing your air filter every month.
  • Thermocouple malfunctions. As we mentioned above, pilot lights have a safety device called a thermocouple that senses whether or not the flame is burning efficiently. If the thermocouple detects that the temperature of the flame is too low, or if there is no flame at all, it will shut off the gas supply to the pilot light. But the thermocouple itself can develop problems, such as slipping out of place or accumulating dirt, which can cause the gas supply to the pilot light to be cut off even if it doesn’t need to be. This is another problem that can be taken care of by scheduling a tune-up for your furnace, when we’ll inspect your thermocouple for signs of problems and make sure that it’s properly adjusted.

Consider upgrading to a furnace that uses a more efficient ignition system

Most of the problems listed above are eliminated in newer furnaces due to the transition to electronic ignitions. An electronic ignition lights uses electricity to heat itself up instead of using a gas-powered flame. As a result, an electronic ignition cannot blow out and it is also more efficient because it doesn’t require a gas supply at all times like a traditional pilot light does. If you have an older furnace with a traditional pilot light, especially if your system is experiencing operational problems, consider upgrading to a new system that uses an electronic ignition.

If you have any questions about furnace pilot light problems, or if you’d like a heating system serviced or installed in your home, contact Hyde’s, your Coachella Valley furnace installation and repair contractor.

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