There's no better time to familiarize yourself with your home's heating system than as the summer is winding down and the fall and winter are looming ahead. If your home uses a gas-powered furnace, then an important element of your furnace is the pilot light. You may be familiar with pilot lights in passing if you have other gas appliances in your home, such as a gas oven or gas stove. Pilot lights play a vital role in making your gas-powered heating work, but they can sometimes be a source of trouble from time to time.
The Role of the Pilot Light
Your gas furnace heats the air in your home by burning natural gas, but it needs a flame to get started. This is the role that your pilot light plays. The pilot light is a much smaller flame which doesn't provide much heat on its own, but that can be used to start the combustion process once your furnace turns on. The pilot light is initially lit from an external source (called priming) and then it continues to burn a small amount of gas. Note that older gas appliances all use pilot lights, so a gas stove or a gas water heater will also have its own pilot light.
The Components of a Pilot Light
Pilots lights aren't complicated, but they are still made up of several related components. Of these, the thermocouple is one of the most important. This is a simple sensor which measures the heat of the pilot light to determine if it has gone out. If the pilot light is out, then the thermocouple shuts a valve which turns the gas off. This is a crucial safety feature of all appliances that use pilot lights. Without it, gas would continue to be ejected from the tube, creating a serious hazard. Aside from the thermocouple and valve, there is little more to the pilot light besides the tube which supplies gas.
Pilot Light Problems
Pilot lights are simple enough that issues relating to them are usually straightforward. The two major problems are blockages either at the burner itself or somewhere in the tube which supplies gas. If debris or something else has blocked the tube, the pilot light may not receive enough gas to keep burning. In this case, the flame will go out and it won't be possible to relight it. If your pilot light does not seem to be lighting after carefully following the instructions to do so, then it is important to call an heating repair service to inspect and possibly replace it. Never attempt to work with natural gas lines on your own.