How to Troubleshoot the Pilot in a Hot Water Heater

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One of the most common problems with a gas water heater is the pilot light going out, as this can result in only cold water coming through. Discover how the pilot light lies within an outer and inner cover with help from a master plumber and heating specialist in this free video on hot water heaters.

Part of the Video Series: Hot Water Heaters
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Video Transcript

On a gas water heater one of the main things that can go wrong you know you wake up you got cold water, you want to take a shower it's usually the pilot light that has gone out. That can be created by many different things something as simple as a windy night the previous night and just blow it out. To go over this and to trouble shoot this and to figure it out what we do first and foremost is make sure that the unit is not touched up here, that it's in the on position and that your thermostat is turned up to where it is. Which probably is where it is because that's where you left it, but sometimes the kids will come through and mess with things or you never know. At any rate if that's all good and you still got cold water, what we do is check for the pilot light. To do this in a standard water heater we remove this cover which is the outer cover. There is also an inner cover. If you do not have both you need both. So find one if you don't and for that you probably need to call a certified technician. So you take this off and up like this. Run it through, that's the simplest way and I'll tell you why when we go to put it back in. The next thing we do is look in. We follow these tubes down and in and what they do is attach to what's called a pilot assembly. And that pilot assembly there is three components. The main gas that comes in and through and goes past that it actually attaches to and goes to the burner. There are three lines that go down in here. You follow them in to find out where the pilot is. The pilot assembly itself is right here. This is the thermal couple. What the thermal couple is is what the pilot flame actually fires against to create a little bit of an electric energy that holds a magnet in inside of the gas valve. The next is the main gas valve which doesn't have to do with the pilot except for the simple fact the pilot assembly attaches to it with a couple of little screws and a brackets there. The third is the pilot tube itself which is what runs over and into the pilot assembly that the gas actually travels through into the pilot to make it go. This is where the pilot tube attaches to the pilot assembly. Following up from that there is what we call the pilot itself. That's where the pilot light comes out. That's a hooded thing that shoots the pilot across over to the thermal couple. The thermal couple goes up in past that typically to the left. Sometimes it's to the right but it's always to the side either way. And that's where the flame blows against. Some pilot assemblies are vertical as opposed to horizontal and you will be able to spot the thermal couple. Always follow the copper line for the thermal couple because that's typically where your problem ends up being if your pilot is burned out or won't bite after you do the unit, after you light the unit itself. So those are the components that are in there. What you are looking for is a small blue flame in there. If you see that there's probably something else with your gas valve or something along those lines that needs to be addressed probably by a certified person. And I recommend that you call them out as opposed to trying to troubleshoot any further past that. Now what we'll do is go over how to light a pilot light. Ok to light a pilot light first thing you need to do make sure your gas is on over to the side. The next thing you need to do is make sure this is in the pilot position matching up with the hash mark that's in front of the gas valve. As you can see it has a little slot that lines up with that hash mark and it says pilot pointing out towards the front. The next thing that you need to do is to press the pilot button. With the pilot button depressed you hold this down, and then you light down in the water heater to light the pilot. And then you hold this button in this knob in for about a minute. What it's doing is that flame is blowing against your thermal couple to prove that you've got flame inside. It's a by metal product and what it does is it creates a little bit of magnetic energy up inside this solenoid so as you hold this button in it pushes again this and as that energy is created it's transferred and it holds down that little magnetic button. So once it's done and after you've held it in about a minute or so you let it up and that pilot should stay lit. Now remember this has to be held down for a minute. You have to see that flame for a minute. If you do that and the flame stays on what you do, turn your knob to vacation mode or pilot mode, some of the other ones have a pilot mode. And you turn it to the on position. After that you go ahead and do a test by turning this, you'll hear it click and then you'll hear flame go. And see flame. If you see that you are good to go. The next thing you want to do shut it back off because you don't want to put all the doors on before you know you got the flame. You shut it back off. And then you proceed to put the inner door on. To do this most people this is kind of a tricky thing even though it doesn't look like it. You start upside down and you wrap it in. And then it slides right into place. And the next thing you do is put the outer door on. And slide it down into it's little slotted place and then go ahead and set the temperature back up on your thermostat. And you'll hear the water heater fire. Now something I'll let you know in a gas water heater sometimes when you fire it up and it's been a cold tank all night or more you'll hear a dripping or a hissing inside. And it sounds like it's leaking. This is completely normal. If a tank is dead cold what will happen is with the energy transfer of the flame against the tank there is condensation that happens. And as it builds up and into the flue it will drip down and hit the burner and it makes a sizzle sound just kind of like dropping water into a hot vat of oil, it makes a sizzle sound. Or if you have a wood burning fireplace you can drop water on it and watch it dance. Same concept inside of here so that is completely normal. Sometimes even a little bit of moisture around it if it's fired up brand new with cold water is completely normal.

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