Pilot light keeps going out on my gas hot water heater.

Deana Fuchs
by Deana Fuchs
My pilot light keeps going out on my hot water heater. I can relight it, and sometimes it will stay lit for a couple of days or sometimes it will go out within a couple of hours. What could be causing this?
  10 answers
  • Brian Edgerton Brian Edgerton on Feb 14, 2014
    Deanna, down here in Texas it could be several things. If you are not experienced with dealing with Natural Gas and/or water heaters you might need to call in a licensed plumber. Here are my troubleshooting thoughts: 1. Check and clean the end of the pilot light, residue will build up on these and cause it not to light or go out. (same for gas stoves as well) 2. Check the regulator, sometimes you have to push down the red button and hold it to activate the gas, if you don't do this long enough the gas will go out after a brief period. 3. Make sure that you have proper ventilation into where the unit is, fire needs oxygen to burn, so if you are building CO in the unit over time this will also cause it to go out. I would start with those first, if those all check out ok, the time to dive deeper into trouble shooting or call in the big guns.
  • Debbie Sopher Debbie Sopher on Feb 14, 2014
    We had this problem in our last house. We had to get a new thermal couple. I am sure that spelling is wrong. But that helped us.
  • Deana, there are two things that cause pilot lights to fail. Debbie Sopher has one of them the thermal couple which is that tiny rod shaped thing that the flame hits when its running. A thermocouple is a tiny electrical generator that when heated from the pilot flame it sends a tiny millivolt of current to the gas valve. This is the wire or very small copper pipe that is screwed into the side or top of the gas valve. This current is amplified inside the gas valve which creates a electromagnet that keeps the gas turned on so the heater lights. Remember when you push that button in when lighting and need to hold it for several seconds? The magnet inside gets stronger as the pilot heats the thermocouple eventually holding it in place so you can remove your finger from the button. This thermocouple comes in a universal kit that you can purchase to install on your own, or have a professional do it for you. Its quite simple, but does require you to lay on the floor which can be difficult depending upon the location of the access area to the heater. The other reason why the pilot could be going out is two fold. It can be a dirty or weak pilot flame. It should be strong with almost a hissing sound. Not weak and yellow. If that is the case you should have the unit checked out by a professional as a weak pilot can be a sign of gas pressure issues, or an adjustment being needed that most likely you do not have to tools to do. The 2nd side of this can be draft related. Check the chimney, If its blocked or if the chimney has been damaged, air from strong winds or back drafting can simply blow the pilot out. My guess however is that that thermocouple is what is faulty. They cost around $15-25 at most home centers. If you have natural gas, your gas supplier would most likely install this for very little cost or for free depending upon the company. If your propane, check with them as well. They have the expertise on how to do this and adjust it for you as well.
  • Deana Fuchs Deana Fuchs on Feb 15, 2014
    Thanks for all the answers and help! I'll get that checked out!
  • D'Ann Loudy-Walmsley D'Ann Loudy-Walmsley on Feb 15, 2014
    That happened to ours when it was very windy outside. I found out later that it was not just due to the wind, but also that we did not have that little skirting that goes around the bottom of the tank. Problem fixed when we put the skirt around the bottom. Who knew?
  • Carole Carole on Feb 15, 2014
    Gas boilers should be serviced regularly. I would call in the experts and explain the problem.
  • SawHorse Design Build SawHorse Design Build on Feb 16, 2014
    How old is the water heater? It may be at the end of its useful life. If it is new, get a plumber out there to see what is going on.
  • Pete Wells Pete Wells on Feb 16, 2014
    Faulty or dirty thermocouple is most likely, a clogged gas feed to the pilot can do this too..the thermocouple is a required safety device that shuts off gas flow when it doesn't detect a flame...is an easy fix but if you've never serviced a gas appliance I'd leave it to somebody who has...
  • CC CC on Feb 16, 2014
    You need a new thermocouple. They are very inexpensive. You can get them at Lowe's or Home Depot or what home store you may have around you. Less than $10 and they are very easy to replace yourself. Don't pay a plumbing guy $200 to do it. I grew up in a home with 2 brothers and no sisters so I learned how to shoot guns, a bow, fix cars and almost any home repairs so it's not complicated. I would check YouTube to see if there may be a how to video. If you can't find one, let me know...I will give you my phone number and walk you through it over the phone step by step.
  • Regina Huffman Regina Huffman on Feb 25, 2014
    We had the same problem- no one could find the problem- we got a new hot water heater- turns out it was our attic fan. WE DIDN'T open enough windows and it would suck out the I pilot light