If you have a gas water heater, then you have a pilot light that is responsible for lighting the burner on a gas type water heater and you should know how to turn it off and on. There are a few reasons to turn off the pilot light on your water heater including the most common reasons: maintenance and vacancy. You might consider turning off the pilot light if you are leaving the house vacant for long periods of time. If you have a modern type water heater there are various features built in that may make it not necessary to turn of your pilot light such as “vacation” mode that will leave the light lit but cut of access to the gas to prevent a possible gas leak. However if you have an older type one, it’s important to know how a pilot light works to prevent igniting leaking gas as well as knowing how the water heater works to prevent turning on the heat to high and cause scalding burns.

What is a Pilot Light?

A pilot light is a small flame that is responsible for lighting the burner on a gas type water heater. If you have a gas stove, you might also have a pilot light for similar reasons. When you turn on your appliance, gas is released to the main burner and the pilot light ignites the gas to turn on the burner. An electric type water heater doesn’t have a pilot light as it uses an electric heater element and not gas to heat the unit.

Is it Dangerous if the Water Heater’s Pilot Light Goes Out?

In modern gas-fueled type water heaters feature valves that automatically close the supply of gas when the pilot light goes out. This involves a thermocouple device to detect if the pilot light is on via temperature and if it is not, then the voltage drops which in turn causes the gas valve to close. If you don’t have a modern water heater with this safety feature than when your pilot light goes out, there may be a gas leak and it could be dangerous to relight the pilot without clearing the gas first.

How to Turn off Your Pilot Light on Your Water Heater

If you are going to do maintenance on your water heater such as flushing your water heater, you should turn off your pilot heater to prevent heating an empty tank or if you are leaving for vacation or leaving the house vacant for a long time, it may be beneficial to turn of the pilot light to save energy cost and to prevent damage from a faulty water heater. The temperature knob has a “vacation” mode which keep the pilot light and the temperature low, which can save on energy costs.

Step 1

Locate the water heater and determine the type of water heater.

types of water heaters


Step 2

Turn the temperature knob to the lowest settings. Turn the knob that has “On”, “Off” and “Pilot” markings to the “off” position. This should have cut the gas and turned off the pilot light. To confirm, remove the panel and view in the little window to see if the pilot light is out. It may take a bit as there may be still some gas in the line that will burn away.

Step 3

Turn off the gas valve. You may have a lever or a knob along the gas line from the water heater. Turn the valve to turn the gas going to the water heater off.

How to Relight the Pilot Light

First check if there is an instructional sticker or manual near your water heater that will have model specific instructions. The process may differ depending on your model of water heater and if the instructions below don’t match up with your settings, then you may have to call the manufacture or a plumber.

If you have a modern water heater, relighting the pilot light will not require a match. If you have an older type water heater which requires a match and you don’t feel comfortable with this, give Wittmaier Plumbing a call to update to a more energy efficient model – (856) 858-1965.

Step 1

Be sure there isn’t any gas present. Smell around for a rotten egg smell and make sure all the gas valves are off. This would include a gas line from the water heater and the Pilot knob setting to the “off” position.

Step 2

Turn the temperature setting to the lowest setting

Step 3

Remove the cover to the pilot light window.

Step 4

Turn on the gas line to the water heater and the Pilot knob setting to “Pilot”

Step 5

Press down and hold the red button. This may be a separate button from the pilot knob or is the pilot knob itself. Be aware the gas is now being released and the next step should be done immediately as you don’t want gas to accumulate.

Step 6 (Modern Water Heaters)

Press down on the piezo ignitor striker. This could be a small button or look like the ignitor button on a grill. While pressing this button, you should be viewing the pilot window to ensure the pilot light is now lit. If it doesn’t light, press it again to try again, but be aware of how much time has passed between attempts to limit the amount of gas accumulating. If too much time has passed, release the red button and turn the pilot knob to off and wait for the gas to dissipate before trying again.

Step 6 (Older Water Heaters)

You will need to place a lit long match near the pilot light to ignite it.

Step 7 (Modern Water Heaters)

Continue to hold down the button in step 5 for 30 to 60 seconds before slowly releasing it. Make sure the pilot light stays lit after releasing the button. Modern water heaters with a thermocouple device will shut off the gas valve off if the temperature is too low, so holding the button will keep the gas flowing to the pilot light until the thermocouple is ready to regulate it itself.

Step 8

Replace the cover

Step 9

Turn the pilot button to the “on” position


If you are unable to keep the pilot light lit or it won’t light after repeated attempts, you may have a problem that a professional should fix. This could be the pilot light or thermocouple may need cleaning or there may be an issue with your gas line, either way having gas being released without a properly working burner or pilot light could be dangerous. Please call Wittmaier Plumbing at (856) 858-1965, immediately if you suspect a faulty water heater with gas or pressure issues.

Why Your Water Heater Pilot Light Keeps Going Out and How to Fix It

With a modern water heater there are usually two parts that will cause the pilot light to keep going out, the pilot light orifice and the thermocouple. A modern water heater has a thermocouple that will shut the gas valve if the pilot light goes out or if it doesn’t burn properly. A faulty thermocouple will continually shut down the gas valve which will keep shutting off the pilot light. A dirty or clogged pilot light orifice can cause the pilot light not to be powerful enough to get the thermocouple hot enough to keep the gas valve open. Older models could have also clogged or dirty pilot light orifices that can cause the pilot light not to stay lit as well. We won’t tell you how to fix this issue as this isn’t a project for someone with inexperience and should only be cleaned or repaired by experienced technicians.