The Furnace Pilot Light versus Electric Igniter

A game of spot the differences is entertaining for all ages. Two photos or illustrations are presented that appear identical at first glance. Players are challenged to pick out the areas they differ.

Instead of photo hunting, learn to spot the differences between heating systems. Some furnaces in Sunset Hills, MO have a pilot light and others contain an electric igniter. Your goal is not to pass the time or beat a previous high score. Rather, your objective is to understand an essential furnace component to troubleshoot issues, maintain safety, and call a professional when it makes sense.

What’s the Same?

Both a pilot light and an electric igniter are components of a gas-fired furnace. Your furnace will contain one or the other, but not both. These parts of a furnace light the burner, either directly or indirectly, when a heating cycle begins.

For safety reasons, the burner must be lit for gas to continue to be fed to a furnace. Combustion of gas will release heat that warms the air that passes over your furnace heat exchanger. So a pilot light or electric igniter sets off a chain reaction that ultimately warms your Sunset Hills home.

What’s Different?

A pilot light is a small flame that’s always burning. It’s common on older furnaces and monitored by a thermocouple. The thermocouple controls the gas and oxygen intake to the pilot light. A bright blue pilot light is an efficiently burning flame. A yellow flame is a sign your furnace needs service.

An electric igniter is a more efficient standard for the majority of newer furnaces. It is immune to blowouts from drafts. The igniter doesn’t continuously consume energy, only when the furnace burner needs to be lit. There are two types of electric igniters: the hot surface ignition, using heat to light the burner like the filament of a light bulb, and the intermittent pilot, using an electronic spark to ignite a periodic gas-powered flame that lights the burners.

The Bottom Line

Simply relighting the pilot light is within scope for the informed Sunset Hills homeowner. But the pilot light and electric igniter can malfunction for other reasons. The good news is these components of your furnace can be replaced or upgraded without an entire furnace overhaul.

Call (314) 664-3011 or visit for experienced service on your Sunset Hills, MO furnace. Hoffman Brothers Heating and Cooling understands not only the differences between a pilot light and electric igniter, but also the variations among the many makes and models of furnaces.

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