If your water heater has stopped working, there are a few steps you can take to troubleshoot the problem before you reach out to the professionals. Giving the pilot light a quick check is always a good place to start. It’s the best visual clue as to whether your water heater is firing or not and is the first place our technicians will look, too. But what is a pilot light, why do you need one, and how do you find it? In this article, we’ll tell you all there is to know about water heater pilot lights including how to find yours if it’s gone out.

What is a Pilot Light on a Water Heater?

Don’t be embarrassed if you don’t know what a pilot light is. Homeowners rarely need to worry about the workings of their water heater and so it’s completely okay not to know. Most of the time when we describe lights in appliances or machines, we’re referring to a light bulb. The pilot light in your water heater, on the other hand, is a flame that burns within the workings of your unit. When it’s time to heat up your water, either through an automated schedule or manual controls, your thermostat will send a signal to your water heater to fire up. Fuel is then released into the water heater’s burner and the gas is ignited by the pilot light. Put simply, the pilot light is responsible for combusting the fuel source and enabling your water heater to create heat.

Signs Your Pilot Light Has Gone Out

When your pilot light isn’t working, you’ll soon be able to tell. Here are three signs that there is a problem:

No Hot Water

This is the most obvious sign that you have a problem with your water heater. If the pilot light has gone out, there will be no way for your water heater to ignite the fuel and begin the heating process.

Gas Control Valve Indicator

If you’ve noticed a blinking light or error message on the gas control valve of your water heater, this is usually a sign of trouble. On some water heater models, the indicator light changes color. Look in your manual or on a sticker on the side of your heater or tank to see if there is any clue as to what the indicator message means. The pilot light being out is usually one of the first issues listed.

No Flame

If you conduct a visual inspection of your water heater and see no little blue flame burning brightly, the pilot light is out and you’ll need assistance.

Finding and Checking Your Pilot Light

It can be a huge inconvenience when the pilot light on your water heater won’t stay lit. Without this essential function, your water heater won’t be able to heat the water you need for showering, cooking, cleaning, and other household chores. Here’s how to find yours and what to look out for.

The pilot light on most water heaters can be found at the base of the unit just under the gas control valve. Open the access door or panel to the burner chamber and take a look inside. You should be able to see the pilot light tube. If there’s a steady blue flame, your pilot light is operational. If there is no flame, the pilot light is out and you’ll need to call a professional.

If there is a flame but the color is anything but blue, it could be a problem with corrosion or dirt in the burner assembly. This could be causing your water heater to run less efficiently. Again, this is a problem that can be solved by a qualified HVAC professional.

What’s Causing My Pilot Light to Go Out?

A pilot light can go out for a number of different reasons. Here are some of the more common causes:


The role of the thermocouple is to shut down the gas valve if the pilot light goes out. This is a safety device that prevents gas from flowing into the chamber. If there is a problem with your thermocouple or it’s dirty or bent, it could be causing the pilot light to go out even when everything else is working perfectly. A qualified HVAC tech will be able to run through some thermocouple troubleshooting tests to pin down the problem.

Gas Pressure Changes

If your water heater experiences a change in gas pressure, this can cause the pilot light to go out. This isn’t a common problem as gas pressure tends to stay fairly constant if there are no underlying problems. Relighting the pilot light usually resolves this problem. However, if the problem keeps happening, there could be a problem with your gas line or elsewhere within your system.

Not Enough Combustible Air

Gas water heaters need air in order to operate safely. If your unit is housed inside a closet or another area where the flow of air may be limited, the pilot light may have problems staying lit. Not only is this situation problematic for your water heater but it could be dangerous to your health, too. Lack of combustible air could lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide in your home and this can be very dangerous. A qualified technician will be able to carry out safety testing and may recommend relocating your water heater to another location. It’s also a good idea to invest in a carbon monoxide alarm for your home. Much like smoke alarms, these devices emit high-pitched signals if dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are detected.


If drafts or bursts of air are able to make their way into your system, these could blow the pilot light out. The pilot light is only a small flame and can be easily extinguished with a light breeze or flow of air. If this seems to be happening, get in touch with our team. We’ll ensure your water heater’s combustion chamber is properly sealed and make necessary repairs if we find a problem.

What to Do in the Event of a Pilot Light Problem

No matter what type of water heater you have, whether you have a tankless heater, or a tanked version, you simply won’t get any hot water if the pilot light is out. Here at Sierra Air Conditioning & Plumbing, we offer dependable plumbing and heating services designed to keep your home comfortable and your hot water flowing. If you suspect you have a problem with your pilot light, get in touch with our experts. We’ll send a member of our team to your rescue to troubleshoot some of the more common pilot light problems.

We also recommend that you arrange regular water heater maintenance. A tune-up of your water heater can prevent pilot light problems and keep your flame burning steadily and brightly. For example, part of our tune-up process is to clear away all dust, debris, and contaminants from inside your water heater. These could be building up on the burner and preventing the flame from igniting and burning efficiently. We’ll also give your water heater a thorough check and test to ensure all components are operating as they should.

To find out more about our water heater repairs and maintenance services, speak to our team from Sierra Air Conditioning & Plumbing. We’ll get to the bottom of any pilot light issues you are experiencing and leave you with a fully functioning water heater and dependable hot water throughout your home. Call Sierra Air Conditioning & Plumbing today to arrange a visit from one of our experts!

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