Newer gas furnaces (since about 2010) do not have a traditional pilot light that burns all the time. Instead they use electronic ignition systems that light only as needed.
Constant flame or “standing pilot” heating systems are still fairly common in older homes, and they can still be repaired in most cases. You won’t see these on newer systems though, or on other appliances that used traditionally used a pilot light. Because a conventional pilot light burns all times, they use (and waste) more gas. In addition to being less efficient, they also aren’t as safe and reliable as heating systems with an electronic ignition.
So, if you’re looking for a pilot light on your newer furnace and can’t find one, it might be because you don’t have one. You should check your owners manual to determine if your systems has an electronic ignition or a pilot light. Most electronic systems will have an ignition rest switch that is not found on models with pilot lights, this is another way to tell. If you’re not certain, contact an HVAC expert, as gas heating systems can be dangerous.
One of the common types of electronic pilots is the intermittent pilot, which doesn’t remain on all the time. Rather, it comes on only when the burner needs to be ignited. When the thermostat gets low and signals for heat, the pilot creates a spark which activates the burners and then shuts off when the heat cycle is complete. Since the pilot is only used as needed, less fuel and energy is consumed with the elimination of the traditional standing pilot light.
Hot Surface Pilots
Another common type of electronic pilot is the hot surface igniter. The type of pilot requires no pilot light and works similarly to a light bulb. Made from silicon carbide and silicon nitride, it responds to an electric current sent through the igniter when the thermostat calls for heat and heats its surface. The gas valve then opens once enough heat is built up and gas flows to the burner where it is activated by the heat of the igniter.
Each type of electronic furnace ignition system will require replacement after a few years, so it’s important to keep regular maintenance scheduled for these systems.
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