A Home Inspector’s Weblog by Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

exploring homes and the lives in them around Houston

Leaving the Light On: Pilot Lights on Your Gas Fired Appliances

Would it not be lovely if our homes could be set on autopilot? Windows opening to catch the breeze. The air conditioning system adjusting accordingly. Appliances that really do not need the power when not in use, going fully dormant, but somehow recognizing when they need to power up a bit, so we can use the remote. Maybe computers will be handling more of these tasks in the future, but our homes need our interaction for now.

Today I climbed into my attic to turn off the pilot light for my heating. For most of the year, Houston is far too warm to have the heater come on, and I have not needed it for the past month, but I do like to wait. The nice thing is that I will not be paying for that gas which
is constantly being burned. Saving money wherever you can certainly helps.

During a recent home inspection, I realized that not everyone is familiar with this tactic, so I thought I would share it here. Not all air heating systems rely on a gas pilot light, but older gas fired units will have those lights on, burning gas, waiting there for your need. My need is not coming for another six months at least, so why pay for the convenience? I am not sure if it has been calculated, but I wonder what the expense might be. Since I deploy several tactics from using a programmable thermostat, insulation, to leaving the system off, I would have to take a closer look at the savings generated by one act. However, I imagine that over six months time, the savings are good.

Each unit is slightly different, but the procedure is the same. There will be a tag on your unit in the attic that describes how to turn on and off the unit safely, so bring a flashlight to read this. To turn off this light, you will be turning a knob on a box from the on position to off. This box is a control valve for the gas coming into the burner compartment, and the knob will be marked with the words on, off, and pilot. On this unit, turning to the off position is all that you have to do. For extra safety, follow the gas line back, and you will find another valve . Turn this one off as well. Usually, they have a lever handle. If the lever is parallel to the line, it is on. Perpendicular to the line means off. That is it; you are done.

You do have another pilot light inn a typical home that uses gas, in the water heater. Since you need hot water year around, you will not be turning this one off, but the procedure is the same. If you are going on vacation, you can turn the thermostat to its lowest temperature. By doing so, your heater will not come on to really heat up the water, while you are away. You will need to turn off this pilot light, when draining the water from your heater. You should drain the water once in a while to flush out the mineral deposits. To drain a water heater takes some time, but it really improves performance, which saves you money. Here are the steps: turn off the pilot light and gas to the unit; turn off the water; attach a garden hose to the heater at the bottom hose bib (like your exterior water faucet); run the hose outside, in a garden bed is fine or the grass (why waste the water); turn on the bib; and let it drain over night. You will not have hot water in the morning, so do this on the weekend.

I cannot wait till computers will make saving money in the home easy, but till then, try this savings tip.

Your Houston home inspector,

Frank Schulte-Ladbeck

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