Most homeowners know if they have a gas or electric furnace in their homes. However, if we were to ask most people if their gas furnace has a pilot light, a lot of homeowners would probably respond that they don’t even know what a pilot light is–let alone if their furnace has one.
The natural gas furnace has been popular since the 1940s, replacing coal-burning furnaces as a safer and more convenient option. Furnace technology has continued to advance not only in safety and convenience but in efficiency too. And so we come to the question: are standing pilot lights in furnaces still a thing? Let’s look into this question in more depth.
What Does a Pilot Light Do?
A furnace’s pilot light (also referred to as a standing pilot light) is a flame inside the unit that is constantly “lit.” It serves as an ignition source for the burners when gas starts to flow from them. It removes the need to manually light the burners with a match which as you can imagine is both incredibly unsafe and inconvenient.
The pilot light stays lit through the heating season. Your furnace also has a device that assists the pilot light called a thermocouple. This safety device can detect if the burners have ignited or not. It works like a failsafe to keep unburned gas from accumulating and will shut off the flow of gas if the burners don’t ignite.
All gas furnaces manufactured in the last 20 years or so are also equipped with a shut-off valve. This valve operates automatically and shuts off the gas flow if the pilot light goes out, eliminating the risk of excessive gas buildup.
Does My Furnace Have a Standing Pilot Light?
If your furnace is a couple of decades old or older, it’s likely that it has a pilot light. One way to check is to look for a round knob on the gas valve with the words Off/On/Pilot. New furnaces have phased out the pilot light which has its drawbacks:
- They can “go out” and need to manually be relit which is inconvenient and potentially risky if you don’t know what you’re doing.
- They’re “energy hogs” and constantly use natural gas during the heating season which consumes extra gas and increases utility costs.
- They’re difficult to replace if they break.
Electronic Ignition Furnaces
Newer gas furnaces have replaced the pilot light component with an electronic ignition. Electronic ignition systems are more reliable than standing pilot lights, don’t waste fuel, and are easy to replace should anything go wrong.
We recommend upgrading your old gas furnace with its outdated pilot light for a new model. If your furnace has a pilot light, it’s probably way past its estimated lifespan and is due to be replaced anyway.
A new furnace will eliminate the problematic pilot light while you reap many rewards: energy savings, a reduced carbon footprint, and a sound investment in your home and your family’s comfort.