Is a pilot light dangerous?

Photo of Stove burner have pilot light

The pilot light is the ignition source for the gas which heats the gas when an appliance is turned on. Some older boilers have the pilot light on constantly which uses more gas, whereas newer boilers and gas appliances only have the pilot lit when required. So, is a pilot light dangerous?

If the pilot light goes off and gas continues to flow into space, the flame does not gradually burn off the gas released and it then can build up.

This is a rare occurrence on newer appliances but, if this does happen, it can then be dangerous to try and light the pilot manually as too much gas can ignite, causing a fire. If you are concerned that there could be any sort of gas leak, you should seek help from a certified engineer to be safe. Ideally, get your boiler and pilot light checked during winter to make sure everything is performing as it should. 

Do I need to turn the gas off if the pilot light goes out? 

Most modern gas appliances and boilers are fitted with a gas leak fail-safe valve to avoid a build-up of gas if the pilot light goes out. This electrical valve should shut the gas flow off from your device meaning that no leak should occur. As with any component, however, the valve can malfunction itself and a leak can occur.

The most obvious way to check for a leak without a tester would be to see if you can smell any gas. If you can, shut off the gas and call an engineer or contractor. Do not attempt re-lighting the pilot yourself if you can smell any gas whatsoever. 

What color should a pilot light be? 

blue fire of pilot light

As most gas appliances run on methane (a naturally occurring gas) then the pilot light should be blue in color as that is the color of methane when it burns. It is normal if there are slight hints of red or yellow to the flame as long as the majority of it is blue. If your pilot light looks orange or yellow in color, there isn’t enough oxygen getting to the ignition source.

Check the area surrounding the boiler for drafts as this could be causing the pilot light to look yellowish. However, this could also be a sign of contamination within the system from dirt, rust, or chemicals and should be checked out right away by a contractor. Be sure to shut down the boiler and turn off the gas right away and wait for it to be given the go-ahead by a professional.

Will gas leak if the pilot light is off? 

In modern boilers, there is an automatic shut-off valve in case the pilot light does go out. The valve is in place to protect against an excessive build-up of gas that could cause a fire or explosion if you try to relight the pilot manually. The easiest way to check for a gas leak is to check for a smell of gas (sulfur, eggy smell).

Even a small gas leak can cause a fire and cause injury to you if you were to try and relight the pilot light. In the event of any leak, shut off the gas mains and call a contractor to come and take a look for you. It is always worth being safe and by calling in a professional, you could be saving your life. 

Can a pilot light cause carbon monoxide? 

A fully functioning pilot light does not pose a risk. If the pilot light is a blue color, no carbon monoxide is leaking. However, if it malfunctions, it can cause the release of carbon monoxide. Unlike methane, carbon monoxide is odorless and therefore, is very dangerous as you cannot always detect a leak.

It is a great idea to keep a working carbon monoxide monitor in close proximity to your boiler to be on the safe side. If the pilot light is yellow in color, this could signal a carbon monoxide issue. It is vital that you call an engineer to check out the boiler if the pilot light is yellow in color, to be safe. Shut off the gas and do not attempt to use the boiler while you wait. If you can open a nearby window or door to allow some added ventilation to the room, even better.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can present with cold-like symptoms, nausea, dizziness, fatigue, and/or headaches. In severe cases of prolonged exposure, the poisoning can lead to brain damage and even death. You should contact your doctor right away if you suspect that you’re suffering from the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. Ideally, it is worth having your boiler serviced once or twice a year. Having your boiler serviced regularly can help to minimize the risk of harmful leaks. 

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