The pilot light has been a staple of home heating systems for decades. The continuous flame underneath furnaces and boilers across the country has gained wide recognition as the ignition source for the heater. It has also become notorious for going out for no apparent reason. This, combined with recent advances in technology, have led to the rise of intermittent systems. Let’s take a look at the differences between the two systems.
The standing pilot light is the traditional ignition source for most natural gas-fueled combustion heating systems. It is comprised of a small burner, a gas valve to supply the burner, and a thermocouple. When the pilot light is first lit, usually by a button on the outside of the heater, the thermocouple registers the heat and sends an electrical current to the gas valve. This current keeps the gas valve open and supplying fuel to the pilot light. As long as the thermocouple keeps registering the heat from the pilot light, the flame can stay lit indefinitely. When the flame goes out, the current stops and the gas valve closes. This is a safety measure to prevent the home from filling up with gas.
There are a couple of issues with this kind of system, the first of which is wasted energy. The pilot light stays lit 24/7, consuming fuel even when you aren’t using the heater. It’s a small flame, but when you consider the months that you likely aren’t using your heater it can add up quickly. The second issue is the pilot light’s propensity for blowing out. While it can often be relit easily, if the pilot light does go out it prevents the entire system from starting.
The intermittent pilot light is an electric system, designed to combat some of the biggest flaws of the standing pilot. Rather than keep a flame burning all the time, the intermittent pilot only lights when needed. The system responds to the command for heat by using an electric spark to ignite the flame. A sensor registers the flame and lights the main burner, at which point the pilot light goes out.
This technology solves both of the standing pilot light’s main issues. However, it is a much more complicated system, and often more costly and difficult to fix.
If you’d like to know more, call Design Comfort. We provide heating services throughout Salt Lake City.