A plumber adjusting the gauges on a water heater.

How to Safely Light Your Water Heater

You have noticed your water heater pilot light is out or simply that there is no hot water available. It’s time to check your water heater to see if you need to relight the pilot light. But…is it safe to light a water heater yourself?

This is a very commonly asked question. You could spend just a couple of minutes on the internet and find a sea of information about how and when to light a water heater yourself.

Quick tips are great but safety is the first course of action. Let us help you address those initial concerns here.

You will need to make sure your gas-powered water heater indeed needs to be relit and that you are in a safe ventilated area before going further. Gas vapors can be dangerous so check around the gas heater and lines for any signs of this before attempting to ignite the pilot light.

Do not hesitate to reach out to a plumbing professional to get their expertise in what you should do next if you are unsure.

Know What Kind of Water Heater You Have

There are several types of water heaters available, including:

1. Conventional storage tank water heaters: These are the most common type of water heater found in households. They store hot water in a tank and keep it heated until it’s needed.
2. Tankless water heaters: Also known as on-demand water heaters, these units heat water as it flows through the device. They don’t store hot water, so they’re more energy-efficient and take up less space than conventional water heaters.
3. Heat pump water heaters: These units use electricity to move heat from the surrounding air or ground to heat the water. They’re very energy-efficient but can be more expensive to install.
4. Solar water heaters: These systems use the sun’s energy to heat water, making them very eco-friendly and cost-effective over the long term.
5. Condensing water heaters: These are high-efficiency units that use exhaust gases to preheat incoming cold water, reducing the amount of energy needed to heat the water.
6. Hybrid water heaters: These units combine the features of tankless and conventional storage tank water heaters, providing both high efficiency and a large storage capacity.

Each type of water heater has its advantages and disadvantages and is designed in ways that require knowing how and where they are to be lit. So check first as to the location of your pilot light.

A Few Quick Safety Tips

As stated before, please keep a few safety precautions in mind before you get started doing anything with your water heater, particularly attempting to light the pilot.

A few key tips to check include:

• Before lighting the water heater, make sure the area around the unit is well-ventilated. Open doors and windows to allow fresh air to circulate.

• Don’t use matches or a lighter to try to light the pilot light. Use a long-handled lighter instead.

• If you smell gas at any time, stop immediately and turn off the gas supply valve. Open doors and windows to ventilate the area, and don’t attempt to light the pilot light until the gas odor has dissipated.

• If the pilot light keeps going out, there may be a problem with the thermocouple or gas valve. In this case, call a plumber to inspect the unit and make any necessary repairs.

How Do I Light My Water Heater?

If you have a gas water heater, you need to know how to light it properly to ensure that it functions safely and efficiently.

Here are the steps to light a gas water heater, along with some safety tips to keep in mind:

1. Turn off the power supply: Before lighting the water heater, turn off the power supply to the unit. If your water heater has an on/off switch, turn it off. Alternatively, you can switch off the circuit breaker that controls the water heater’s power.

2. Shut off the gas supply: Turn off the gas supply valve that leads to the water heater. The valve is usually located near the bottom of the tank on the gas line. If you’re not sure where the valve is, check the owner’s manual or contact a plumber.

3. Wait for gas to dissipate: After you turn off the gas supply valve, wait for a few minutes to allow any remaining gas in the system to dissipate.

4. Locate the pilot light assembly: The pilot light assembly is usually located near the bottom of the water heater tank, behind a removable panel. You may need a screwdriver to remove the panel.

5. Light the pilot light: To light the pilot light, turn the control knob on the gas valve to the “pilot” position. Then, press the knob down and hold it down while you light the pilot light with a long-handled lighter. Keep the knob pressed down for about 30 seconds after lighting the pilot light to allow the thermocouple to heat up.

6. Set the temperature: After lighting the pilot light, turn the control knob to the “on” position and set the temperature to your desired setting. You may need to wait a few minutes for the water to heat up.

7. Replace the panel: Once you’ve finished lighting the pilot light, replace the panel that covers the pilot light assembly.

When To Call a Plumber

If you have checked for issues, followed the safety steps, and still have questions about what to do or not do, consider giving your plumbing professional a call as soon as possible.

Double check these three questions if you are unsure about anything:

1. If you’re not comfortable lighting the pilot light or have any doubts about your ability to do so safely, call a plumber to do the job for you.

2. If you smell gas or notice any other signs of a gas leak, such as a hissing sound or a gas odor, evacuate the area immediately and call your gas company or fire department. Don’t attempt to light the pilot light or turn on any lights or appliances until the gas company or fire department has determined that it’s safe to do so.

3. If the pilot light keeps going out, there may be a problem with the thermocouple or gas valve. In this case, call a plumber to inspect the unit and make any necessary repairs.


By following these steps and safety tips, you can light your gas water heater safely and efficiently. Remember, if you have any doubts or concerns, it’s always better to call a professional plumber for assistance.

Plumbing Doctor® is here for whatever your needs are and we always offer customers fast, courteous service. Contact us today. We would love to help!