Many homeowners may be surprised when they find out that their furnace doesn’t have a pilot light (also known as a standing pilot or safety pilot). But pilot lights have become outdated technology for gas-powered furnaces and most other gas-burning appliances, like water heaters, fireplaces and stoves. Today’s furnaces ignite the propane gas through advanced technologies known as electronic ignition systems. But more about that later.
If have an older gas furnace, you’ll see your furnace has a little blue flame that sits in front of one of the burners. There is a round knob on the gas valve with the words OFF/ON/PILOT.
One of the biggest drawbacks to pilot lights is that they will get extinguished at times, causing you to lose your heat. Common reasons include a nearby draft, dirt buildup, or a malfunctioning thermocouple. If you are not comfortable re-lighting the pilot, reach out to your propane service provider for assistance.
Another pilot light disadvantage relates to energy waste. Since the pilot light needs to always remain active, your furnace is always consuming some propane—an estimated eight gallons per month. That obviously adds up over time.
There is a safety issue as well. Pilot lights can develop problems that cause them to burn inefficiently. When this happens, a small amount of carbon monoxide can be released into your home.
All of these problems are not an issue when you have a modern propane gas furnace, which uses electronic ignition instead of an old-fashioned pilot light.
Most furnaces with electronic ignition have a device called a hot surface igniter. This is a small electronic device that receives an electrical current whenever your thermostat calls for heat. The ignition heats up to a temperature that is hot enough to ignite the gas to your burners, and then it shuts off after it has done its job.
Another type of electronic ignition is an intermittent pilot light. It uses a small flame to ignite the burners just like a conventional pilot light. The difference is that the flame is only lit (by an electronic spark) when your furnace is ready for a heating cycle. When the pilot light is not needed, it is completely off, saving you money on propane gas.