Have you ever wondered: "Should I leave the pilot light on in my gas fireplace during the summer?" That's a good question. Safety is always the first and most important consideration with fireplaces and gas appliances. It depends on what you want to accomplish by turning the pilot light off or leaving it on. The functionality of a fireplace can be affected by turning off the pilot.
First, let's answer the following questions so you can make an informed decision:
- What does a pilot light actually do?
- What are the different ignition systems, and what do they mean for you?
- Is it a good idea to turn it off during the year's warmer months?
- How expensive is it to keep it going year-round?
- If I turn it off, is it difficult to re-light?
This information should be helpful if you have ever wondered about that small blue flame in your gas fireplace or stove.
WHAT DOES A PILOT ACTUALLY DO?
The pilot light has two primary functions:
1) Generate electricity in millivolts. That is thousandths of one volt to open and close the gas valve.
2) Ignite the gas once the valve has opened, and the fuel flows into the burner.
WHAT TYPE OF IGNITION SYSTEM?
Most burners on gas fireplaces will be tube-style or ceramic burners. The burner assembly includes a gas valve, various fittings, and a control module.
When you press the remote control or turn the wall switch on, or the wall thermostat calls for heat, the gas valve opens, allowing gas to flow to the burner.
The pilot light is positioned just before the burner to ignite the gas.
There are two types of pilot ignition systems available on a gas fireplace.
- Intermittent Pilot Ignition (IPI) : This is an update to the classic standing pilot light controlled by an electronic ignition system. The intermittent pilot turns on only when the valve is open and the fireplace operates. We usually operate IPI systems in the auto-shutoff mode. But you can set some of them to run continuously as an option.
- Steady-on or Standing Pilot Light : Uses a millivolt valve that keeps the pilot flame constantly lit.
Therefore, we will confine this discussion "Should I leave my pilot light on year-round?" to the "steady-on" millivolt ignition system.
SHOULD I TURN OFF THE PILOT LIGHT IN MY FIREPLACE DURING THE SUMMER?
There are pros and cons to leaving a pilot light on year-round in your fireplace, stove, or insert. Of course, the most significant advantage of turning the pilot off is that if you’re not using the fireplace for five months, you could save $20 to $30.
On the other hand, the small amount of heat the pilot light creates helps keep the firebox dry. This is especially helpful if you live in a humid climate. Humidity can lead to rust developing inside the firebox of your gas fireplace.
Another advantage of keeping the pilot going is to keep small spider webs from forming in the burner orifice, which requires a service call to clean and correct. If you have this problem, $20 to $30 won’t even get a service tech in your driveway!
DOES A PILOT LIGHT USE MUCH GAS?
Most pilot lights consume around 600 BTUs of gas/hour. That’s roughly 14,400/BTUs daily or approximately 432,000 BTUs monthly.
Natural gas (NG) customers are billed in “therms” by their gas supplier. A therm of gas is equal to 100,000 BTUs of heat. 432,000 BTUs equates to 4.3 therms of gas. Check your most recent gas bill and apply the rate with each therm of natural gas.
- At $.90/therm, you’re spending about $3.90 monthly to keep the pilot going.
- At $1.00/therm, the cost is about $4.35
- At $1.20/therm, about $4.95
- At $1.50/therm, the monthly cost to operate the pilot would be $6.45.
You get the idea.
We can use the same exercise for LP gas measured in gallons rather than therms. There are approximately 92,000 BTUs in one gallon of LP. 432,000 BTUs represent about 4.7 gallons of LP.
- At $1.10/gallon, you’re spending about $5.20 monthly to keep the pilot going.
- At $1.30/gallon, you would spend approximately $6.10 every month.
- At $1.50/gallon, roughly $7.05 each month.
IF I TURN IT OFF, IS IT DIFFICULT TO RE-LIGHT?
Shutting the pilot light off means, you must re-light it in the fall. It's not a complicated process and is outlined in your owner's manual. However, some homeowners can struggle to get the pilot going again.
Today's technology is much simpler and easier to troubleshoot problems. A millivolt system is less costly to fix than a standing pilot if any parts need repairing or replacing.
Hopefully, this gives you some guidance in deciding whether to leave your pilot light on year-round or turn it off during the warmer weather.
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