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AC Comfort Blog

Do Gas Furnaces Still Use Pilot Lights?

gas-energy-flamesThe natural gas furnace has a long history of use. The first patent on the gas furnace was in 1919, and by the 1940s, gas furnaces started to become popular as central heating options, replacing coal-burning furnaces because of their power, improved safety, and convenience—no more need to take delivery of coal and shovel it into the furnace, the natural gas comes right to the home.

Furnace technology has continued to improve over decades since, and this is where we come to the question in the title: Are pilot lights still a thing? We’ll look into this question more below.

The purpose of the pilot light

The pilot light (a.k.a. a standing pilot light) is a flame inside a furnace that stays lit to ignite the burners when gas starts to flow from them. This eliminates the need for someone to manually light the burners using a match, which is both inconvenient and unsafe. A pilot light uses the natural gas from the furnace to remain burning throughout the heating season so the furnace is always ready to come on. A safety device called a thermocouple is paired with the pilot light to detect if the burners have ignited or not. If the burners don’t ignite (possibly because the pilot light has gone out) the thermocouple will shut off the flow of gas.

The pilot light is going extinct

Your house may have a furnace with a standing pilot light. If so, it’s probably the last furnace you’ll have that’s like this. Pilot lights are becoming less and less common in gas-burning appliances such as furnaces, boilers, water heaters, and ovens. Pilot lights did their job but they have several drawbacks. One is that they sometimes go out and require an owner to manually relight them. Another is that they use natural gas throughout the heating season, no matter if the furnace is on or not, which consumes extra gas and raises heating costs. They also aren’t easy to replace if they break. Pilot lights were going to be replaced eventually, and the new technology is already here and taking over…

The electronic ignition furnace

You may already have one of these, and if you don’t, we recommend considering replacing your current furnace with its pilot light for one of these newer models. (If your furnace has a pilot light, it’s probably a pretty old model and ready for replacement anyway.) Electronic ignition systems are more reliable than standing pilot lights, don’t waste fuel, and are simple for professionals to replace when necessary. 

One way that an electronic ignition system works is with a “hot surface,” which uses an electric current to heat up a filament until it’s hot enough to ignite the burners. It’s similar to how a light bulb works. There are also “intermittent pilot lights,” which work similarly to standing pilot lights except an electric spark ignites them when they’re needed and they go out right afterward. 

No matter the type of furnace you have, when it won’t light and you need furnace repair in Houston, TX, you can trust our team to get the job done. 

No matter your heating concerns, you can call us to solve it. At AC Comfort, Your Comfort Is Our Business! 

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