How to check and light a pilot light

Posted on January 11, 2016

No heat? Does your Elkins Apartments home have a gas heating system? Here’s how to check the pilot light, and re-light it if necessary.

If you have an older model furnace with a standing pilot (flame is lit all the time) then this is the basic procedure. — Bob Formisano, Home Repair Expert. Read more from Bob at

Troubleshooting a gas furnace: Step 1 — did you start your gas account with Vectren?

Seriously. No kidding. At least once per year, we get a call or email about someone being cold and how its terrible, and how bad we are, and and… and then we determine they never turned on their gas, so obviously the GAS furnace isn’t working. And, no, there isn’t anything we can do about it. Vectren might be able to do an emergency turn on for you especially if its really cold out, but unfortunately we can’t get it handled for you because its your place and your utility.

This is why we send out multiple notes about ensuring ALL your utilities are on in the fall, while its still nice and warm….

Yes, we get that you are upset, and yes lashing out sort of feels productive (or at least cathartic), but its not helpful, and we get you would rather be mad at anyone but yourself, so if you must, feel free, but it won’t get you warmer any faster. 🙂

Oh, and this can be true of hot water as well… Seriously we’ve had tenants gripe, even write online reviews, about how cold their water was, yet when they get around to reporting it to us, well, turns out the gas for their GAS hot water heater wasn’t on…. Go figure.

Troubleshooting Step 2: Got gas! Check the pilot light.

Pilot light? What’s that? A pilot light is a little flame that burns all the time. This is normal. This is also why some gas appliances (like the top of your stove if you have gas fired stove/oven with certain types of burners) will feel warm all the time and why public gas firepits will have warnings that say something like: “This appliance and the area around it may be HOT even when it is not in operation.”

Note that NEWER models use an electronic ignition and do not have a standing pilot light.

The pilot light constantly burns a little gas flame. This flame is a safety feature. As long as it is burning, the main gas is allowed to flow when you turn it on. If it isn’t burning, then it won’t. This makes it so gas cannot just enter the home without burning–the pilot always ignites it. Without this feature, it is more possible for gas to build up until it reaches a flame, which can be, well, bad.

So, if the pilot light is out, your gas furnace will not work until it is relit.

There are many different gas furnaces, so we can’t tell you exactly where the pilot light is or how to relight it.

The gist is:

  • Turn your themostat to the LOWEST possible level (so it doesn’t turn on the furnace when you relight the pilot)
  • Locate the pilot in the furnace (is there a little blue flame anywhere?)
  • No? Then locate the pilot switch.
  • If it’s on, then turn it to off and leave it for a few minutes.
  • If it’s off, turn it to pilot and hold it down (this causes gas to flow).
    • When holding it down, you should be able to hear gas flow (it’ll be very faint noise). If not, you may not have gas to the unit, check the gas cock (oh, and you signed up for gas, right?)
    • Use a lighter and light the actual pilot (still holding down the switch).
    • Once lit, keep holding a 1-2 minutes. If when you let go, the pilot goes out, then you didn’t hold long enough. This is so gas is flowing consistently.
    • If it won’t stay lit even after holding down a few minutes, the pilot probably needs to be adjusted, which you can Google, or just call maintenance.
  • Go adjust your thermostat, and you should be good to go. Nice work!

As a starting point here are a few helpful articles and notes. Because at 2am, and its uber cold outside, you may not be able to reach an HVAC person, but you should be able to do some troubleshooting yourself. Note, this is straightforward stuff. Many people with gas furnaces turn the furnace off purposefully during the summer and then back on. It’s definitely a DIY job, unless something is broken…

This video has a good overview of things to do to check (and relight) your gas furnace pilot light.

The one below is longer and shows an older model, pay particular attention to “follow the silver tube” to find the pilot light, because if its not lit (there’s no small blue flame) then it might not be obvious where it is.

You can find lots of this on the web! Here’s one from Wikihow for 3 more Ways to Light a Pilot.

Good luck, stay warm, and be safe. When in doubt, call us and we can schedule a maintenance visit.