Informational Guide

How To Light A Water Heater With Electronic Pilot (Upd 2023)

by Andrew

Water heaters are an essential appliance in your home. They provide you with hot water for cleaning, washing, and showering, so life can become unbearable very quickly without it. Electronic pilot lights are used in most modern water heaters, making controlling this ignition source much easier. From time to time, this electronic pilot can go out, and you'll have to relight it. 

In this guide, we'll explain how to light a water heater with an electronic pilot so you can get your water heater working and your hot water flowing again.  

A pilot light needs to be turned on to provide the ignition source for your gas water heater. Most modern water heaters have an electronic pilot, which is one of the simplest ways to light the device. There are no special tools used, but it’s worthwhile keeping the user manual close in case you need to locate different controls. These steps should work on almost every water heart with an electronic pilot: 

1. Locate The Status Light 

Your water heater should have a status light on the outside that indicates whether the pilot is lit. This will blink when it’s turned on.

Make sure you know where this is before you start and if you need to, check the user manual. The igniter button is usually located right next to it.  

pilot light

2. Turn On The Power 

Start by turning on the power on the device and at the circuit. You may have to check the breaker to make sure it’s turned on there too.  

3. Turn On The Gas 

Your pilot light needs some gas flowing to light. You should turn the gas knob to the pilot setting and leave it there until the next step. Most known brands like Honeywell and Rheem have very easy-to-find gas controls which are clearly labeled. If not, look at the user manual and locate them.  

4. Press The Ignition Button 

Depress the gas control knob and hold it in while pressing the ignition button. Keep pressing the ignition button once per second while holding the gas control knob down. Keep an eye on the status light and keep going with the process until it starts to blink. If you have a new water heater, then you may need to keep going with this for 60 seconds.  

5. Check The Pilot Light 

Once the ignition sequence is completed and the indicator is flashing, you should look through the small viewing window for the blue flame. The viewing window is normally right on the front of the water heater and easy to find. Once lit, you can adjust the gas knob to the appropriate setting to activate the furnace and heat your water.  

6. Check The Water Is Heating 

Lastly, check the water heater is working. Listen to see if you can hear it working and leave it for an hour or so. Then, run your hot water and make sure you have an adequate supply. If everything is working as it should, then you have successfully lit your electronic pilot light.  

Electronic Pilot Water Heater Ignition Types (How Do They Work?) 

Your pilot light provides the ignition source for the gas which powers your water heater. Older models sometimes require you to use matches or another external heat source to light the pilot, but modern water heaters use an electronic ignition. This means a small amount of electricity is used to generate a spark that lights the flame. This system is considered more efficient and saves gas being wasted.  

There are two main types of electronic water heater ignition: hot surface ignition and intermittent. Hot surface ignition is the most common type in water heaters because it only turns on just before the heater starts working. A small metal device is heated by electricity to a high enough temperature to ignite the water heater's burners. There's no need for a pilot light with this type of ignition, so if you have this type of water heater, you won't need to light it manually.  

Intermittent ignition uses a pilot light uses a small gas-powered flame as a heat source. An electric spark is induced to light the flame, which is why there has to be manual intervention. The idea is just to light the water heater when it's about to cycle and limit the amount of fuel used to keep the pilot light running.  

Knowing the type of ignition used by your water heater will help you understand the steps you need to undertake and how the whole mechanism works. This will help you with any repair work if there’s an issue with the pilot light.  

There are two main types of water heaters with electronic ignitors: 

  • Induced Draft Water Heater 
    Induced draft water heaters use a small fan to draw the heat from the burning gas and direct it towards the water tank. This heats the water quickly to the appropriate level and gives you access to hot water. This type of water heater usually has an intermittent electronic pilot light that needs to be lit just before it cycles.  
  • Condensing Water Heater 
    Condensing water heaters use two heat exchangers. The gas is burned and generates heat in the first exchanger, heating the water. This is then condensed in the second heat exchanger and gives you hot water. This type of water heater can have an intermittent electronic pilot light but may also use hot surface ignition to light. It's worth checking which one you have in case you run into any problems and need to diagnose the problem.  

Why Is My Water Heater Electronic Pilot Not Lighting? (What To Do) 

Like every home appliance, your water heater will eventually encounter problems. Your pilot light can stop lighting, which will prevent heat from being generated in the heater.  

If you first notice that your water heater pilot light isn't lighting, you should try lighting it again by following the steps detailed in this article. Try this several times, leaving a few minutes between each. If it’s still not working after several attempts, then you need to try and figure out the problem. Here are some troubleshooting and solutions for gas water heaters with electronic ignition: 

Loose Wires 

Your electronic pilot will have several wires going into it to provide the electric charge necessary to light it. Over time, these wires can become loose, preventing power from reaching the device. Check the igniter for any loose wires and see if they can be moved back into place. You may need to resolder them if they’ve become completely unattached. 

Remember to always turn the electricity and gas off before undertaking any work on the water heater, and if you're unsure, you should consult a professional. Electricity can be dangerous, and it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  

Not Getting the Proper Power 

Your water heater igniter needs to get enough power, but you also need to ensure it's not getting too much. Your heater will have a specific voltage that it needs (usually 120v), and if you exceed this, it will cause the igniter to fail. The easiest way to check this is to use a multi-meter to check the voltage and make sure it aligns with the specifications in the user manual.  

Most modern water heaters have control boards to help you understand when there’s an issueLook for any flashing lights on the display and consult your user manual to see what it means. This should help you determine if the voltage is a problem.  

Damaged Thermocouple 

Your thermocouple connects directly to your control valve and detects if your pilot flame is lit. If the thermocouple is damaged, it will stop you from being able to light it with the switch. You should first check if the connection is loose. Turn off all power and then see if there’s any slack between the thermocouple and the control valve. You should be able to tighten this by hand if it is loose.   

If your thermocouple isn't loose, you need to check for damage. Completely remove it from the water heater and test it using a multi-meter. If the mini-volt reading is less than 25, you will need to replace the thermocouple to get the igniter working again.  

bradford thermocouple

Bad Control Valve 

Your control valve is used to sense if your pilot flame is lit and allows gas to enter the water tank. If the control valve is damaged or broken, it means gas won't be allowed to flow, and your pilot light can’t function. It's difficult to test for a bad control valve, but if you've got to this stage in the list, it's the likely culprit. You'll need professional help to resolve this, and be warned; it can be pricey. Try and get a few quotes from different professionals in your area to find the best value.  

control valve

People Also Ask (FAQs)

Can you manually light a water heater with electronic pilot?  

No, it's not safe to manually light a water heater with an electronic pilot, and it can be dangerous to attempt it. If there is a power outage, you won't be able to use the water heater, which can be a real inconvenience. If you suffer from regular outages, then you might want to consider an alternative to an electronic pilot igniter.  

Do all water heaters have a pilot light?  

No, only gas water heaters have pilot lights to ignite the gas supply, and electric water heaters don't need them.  

Should the electronic pilot light always be on in a gas water heater? 

Once lit, the pilot light stays on, ready to heat the water as the heater uses it 


Water heaters with electronic pilot lights are generally simple to use and fairly fuel-efficient. If you've never used one before, it can be a little daunting, but after you've done it a few times, you'll be able to light it easily. Hopefully, this guide has given you some useful information about gas heaters with electronic pilots, and you now feel more comfortable using one.