Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces & Heating SafetyStanding Pilot Gas Furnaces & Heating Safety. The picture to the right is the main reason carbon monoxide detectors are needed. CO Detectors are important to have for people who own gas or oil-fired furnaces. The customer had been suffering from severe headaches, nausea, and sinus problems.

I condemned the gas pack furnace and the next day returned to replace all the heat exchanger cells in the furnace. This was the fourth one that winter (2001) that I had found in different furnaces.

How many more are out there in furnaces that no one knows anything about except a slight headache and nausea? This is an excellent reason to have your furnace/heater and heat exchanger inspected immediately. Don’t take any chances, get your carbon monoxide detector and call your local heating and air company for a furnace/heater inspection today.


Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces  - CO Detectors

Any person with a fossil-fueled furnace should have a Carbon Monoxide Detector in their home. It is highly recommended by HVAC Furnace professionals. Please have one installed immediately if you own a furnace. It could save your life and the lives of those you love. Click Here to read about Carbon Monoxide poisoning. There are many different types of gas furnaces.

The focus of this article will be on what I call the simple standing pilot gas furnace. Furthermore, the standing pilot gas furnaces have a pilot light that should always be burning. If not, then you have a problem and need to relight the pilot light. If you have problems lighting the pilot light then you either need to test or replace the thermocouple.

Standing pilot gas furnaces can be in your closet, the floor type, or in your attic. A standing pilot gas furnace is a particular type of gas furnace. Standing pilot systems can also be a hot water boiler or a steam boiler. In either case, the standing pilot gas furnace is quickly becoming a thing of the past and being slowly replaced with newer, more efficient electronic ignition furnaces. Whether you have a standing pilot gas/propane furnace or an electronic ignition furnace you’ll want to read on for tips on furnace maintenance and care for the primary source of heat in your home, your furnace.

Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces - Problems with the Pilot Light

You go to the thermostat and turn the temperature setting up. Your cold and fully expect the furnace to heat the house to your desired comfort level. You go back to what you were doing and forget about the heat or furnace. A half-hour later you start to feel really cold and go back to the thermostat. For most people that is the extent of their knowledge about their furnace, heating, or cooling system ends at the thermostat.

Besides changing the filter every once in a while and storing your things next to the old beast (furnace)in the closet, that is the only time we ever see or think about the furnace. And now you are getting cold and your concern is rising. Whether you are mechanically inclined or not, the best advice I can offer at this point is to pick up a phone and call a professional HVAC contractor. If you are adventurous and do basic things such as light a pilot light by yourself then you can use the checklist below to proceed carefully.

Maintenance Checklist | Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces & Heating Safety

  • Check the thermostat and make sure it is in the on position and turned up.
  • Check the filter. A dirty air filter can and will cause your furnace to malfunction.
  • Check the main power. Start at the fuse or circuit breaker box and then go to the emergency cutoff switch. These switches usually look like a regular wall switch except the cover is usually red (but not always, sometimes they have white cover plates). So you check and everything is good……..all the switches are on and no fuses blown.
  • Make sure there is gas. Forget to get the propane tank refilled? Did you forget to pay the natural gas bill? If this happens the gas company will put a lock on the meter. Finally, check the meter and make sure this hasn’t happened to you.

Some gas companies will lock your meter if there is a suspected gas leak. They’ll leave a red tag and a lock on the meter. If the meter is okay, going to the furnace. There should be a valve on the gas line next to the furnace. Make sure the valve is on. This valve is called a gas-cock, and the position of the knob should be parallel to the line. That will indicate that it is on.

If the gas-cock is the next step is to check the gas valve itself. That is located inside the panel where the gas burners are. Look at the top of the valve. Is it in the on position? Furthermore, if it is, move on to the next step.

Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces - Electronic Ignition or Standing Pilot?

Warning: There are some furnaces with pilots that are electronic ignition. These are called intermittent pilots. Do not attempt to light an intermittent pilot gas furnace. If you have an intermittent pilot gas furnace and it doesn’t work, call a professional. To tell if you have an intermittent pilot gas furnace, look at the gas valve. It will not have a pilot position on the knob. Now that you’re inside the panel, check to see if the pilot is lit. If it is, and your furnace still won’t start, then the best thing to do is call a furnace professional.

Your problems are most likely beyond the scope of your ability. The furnace needs the attention of a person trained in the repair of gas furnaces. If you decide to continue, proceed at your own risk. If the pilot is not lit, you’ll need some matches or a lighter. Preferably matches or a lighter with a long reach. Once you have obtained a source of fire, turn the knob to the pilot position. Make sure there is not a gas smell present. Finally, remember natural gas is lighter than air and will rise while propane is heavier than air and will settle in low places.

Lighting the Pilot Light | Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces & Heating Safety

Always read and follow the manufacturer’s safety and operating instructions. Propane or manufactured gasses are heavier than air and tend to accumulate in lower spaces. Many eyebrows, beards, mustaches, and hairdos have been singed because the person lighting the pilot forgot this fact. If you do smell gas, call a professional after you turn all knobs supplying gas to your furnace to the off position.

Okay, back to lighting the pilot. Turn the knob to the pilot position and press down on the knob. Light the match or lighter and place the flame at the pilot. The pilot should light. Continue holding the knob down for about a minute. After the minute goes by, release the knob. The pilot should remain lit. If it doesn’t, try lighting it again. Finally, if after several attempts at lighting the pilot and refuses to stay lit, call a Furnace HVAC Professional.

You most likely need a new thermocouple or thermophile depending on whether your pilot system is powered by either a thermophile or thermocouple. In the flash presentation above, a flame is burning continuously on the tip of a thermocouple. As long as the flame is present on the tip of a properly functioning thermocouple, the primary valve (inside the gas valve) will remain open. If the flame goes out or the thermocouple malfunctions, the primary valve will close off, rendering the valve inoperable and preventing any gas from escaping.

Characteristics and Behaviors of the Gas Furnace Flame

The flame that your furnace or boiler produces can affect the performance and efficiency if it is not properly burning the fuel. A professional HVAC Technician will have high tech tools so that your furnace can be tuned to where the mixture, fuel, and air, is proper, ensuring the furnace is getting the maximum amount of efficiency possible. Consequently, this is super important, considering that the cost of fuels, whether it is natural gas, propane, or oil, is continually rising.

Testing | Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces & Heating Safety

Pilot Light with flame
The first test that can be performed on your furnace is simple and requires no tools, but does require a knowledge of what a proper furnace flame should look like. Natural Gas should have a blue flame with a very minimum amount of yellow tips on the top of the flame. Too much yellow tips would mean there is not enough primary air or a combination of some other problems where a simple adjustment can be made to correct the problem to get the most out of the combustion process.

Problems other than yellow tipping are rollout, flashback, lifting flames, and floating flames. Furthermore, all these problems should be corrected to get the most out of your furnace or boiler.

Use our handy calculator to see how many BTU's your natural gas appliances are producing:

The next test that can be performed is the combustion analyzer test. An expensive tool must be used for this test. An electronic device that is capable of reading and analyzing several processes of combustion can give the technician clues about any potential problems so that some action can be taken to correct them. A furnace combustion analyzer will tell the furnace HVAC technician the stack temperature, carbon monoxide level, carbon dioxide level, and oxygen levels in the exhaust gasses leaving the furnace.

Conclusion | Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces & Heating Safety

This furnace test should also be done in conjunction with a furnace draft pressure test. All the by-products of the furnace combustion process must be exhausted outside the home. A furnace draft test can determine this will happen. A visual furnace test using a mirror. That can also be done to ensure there are no blockages of the chimney or the furnace flue.

All the byproducts of the furnace combustion process are analyzed, and measures are taken to correct any abnormal readings. That is done by making adjustments according to the furnace manufacturer’s recommendations. Finally, the last furnace test that can be performed is a gas pressure test. These pressures are different from one furnace or boiler to another and natural gas to propane to oil. Propane and Natural Gas are measured in water column inches using a manometer.

The proper furnace fuel pressures must be present in the furnace or boiler. Valid not only for furnace/boiler efficiency purposes but also for complete furnace fuel combustion. A qualified furnace HVAC technician can perform all these furnace tests. These tests can make a big difference in the amount you pay for the heating fuel you use over the colder months. Furthermore, call to schedule your furnace or boiler tune-up today.

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Standing Pilot Gas Furnaces & Heating Safety