How to Replace a Water Heater Pilot Light

Water heater pilot lightWater heater burner and pilot light assembly

Is your hot water suddenly running cold?

Cold water running from the shower and bath, or no hot water in the bathroom or kitchen is one of the frequent complaints among homeowners where the common culprit is the pilot light.

If your pilot light goes out, flickers, or cannot stay on after relighting it; you might have a problem with the pilot light assembly.

In this article, we will explain how to replace a water heater pilot light - fast and efficiently. This can be a DIY project, and it requires some basic skills and a few tools.

If you are not a DIY person, we can connect you with local plumbers to get free estimates for your problem.

Note: According to the manufacturers, a service technician is recommended for pilot assembly replacement because the gas supply line connections must be checked for leaks.

Warning: If you smell gas, leave your house and call the gas company.

As found in most older and economy-type gas water heaters, the pilot light (or standing pilot) in your water heater is used to light the gas burner for heating water and maintaining hot water temperatures. It must stay lit all the time to keep the water hot.

The standing pilot is attached to the bracket together with the thermocouple and igniter. This is known as the pilot assembly, and this is how it is often sold.

Gas water heaterGas water heater

Pilot light problems are some of the most common issues found in gas water heaters, and there are three main indications that it has gone out:

  • No hot water
  • No flame
  • Error message or blinking light on the gas valve

Before we continue with the instructions on how to replace a pilot, let’s first see why it needs replacing.

  • Malfunctioning, damaged, or clogged pilot
  • Damaged or clogged pilot orifice
  • Malfunctioning or damaged thermocouple
  • Hard to remove soot build-up and carbon deposits

Tip: Regular visual inspection is important to catch any defects, damages, or deposits on the standing pilot and prevent unpleasant cold showers, or even bigger problems.

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Instructions on how to replace a water heater pilot light

  • Shut off the gas supply before performing any service. Close both gas control valve and shutoff valve.
  • Remove the metal access door at the bottom of your gas water heater.
  • Disconnect the thermocouple, ignitor, and pilot tube from the gas valve using an adjustable wrench.
  • Disconnect the gas burner supply tube using an adjustable wrench.
  • Remove the screws holding the burner cover plate in place.
  • The pilot and burner assembly, together with the burner cover plate, can now easily slide out from the combustion compartment. Make sure not to damage the old gasket so you can reuse it if not damaged.
  • Use a screwdriver to remove the screw securing the pilot assembly to the burner assembly.
  • The pilot assembly with all the wires can now be easily detached from the burner cover plate pressing firmly on the grommet.
  • Feed the new pilot assembly cables and the grommet back through the plate opening. Ensure the grommet is fully seated.
  • Screw the pilot assembly in place, following the steps from before, but in reverse order.
  • With the pilot assembly attached, slide the burner assembly back into the combustion chamber.
  • Install a new gasket (or old if it is still good).
  • Reinstall the burner cover plate.
  • Reconnect the gas supply tube, pilot, and thermocouple to the gas control valve. Make sure not to overtighten.
  • Open the shutoff valve on the gas supply line and turn the gas control valve to the ON position.
  • Set the thermostat to 120-125 F.
  • Relight the pilot per the manufacturer's instructions and test a water heater for proper operation.
  • Check all the connections for gas leaks. You can use soapy water, and if no bubbles are appearing, your water heater is ready.
  • Install an access door.

Conclusion

If you need help lighting a pilot, follow the instructions found in the manual, on the sticker on the tank, or use this article with the step-by-step guide.

If, after replacing a pilot light assembly, a pilot still doesn’t light the gas burner or goes out over and over again, contact a licensed technician to help you find the problem.

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