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Electronic Ignition in a Furnace: Why It’s Better Than a Pilot Light

inside-a-gas-furnaceIf you’ve had the same furnace in your home for many years, you’re probably accustomed to it having a pilot light. If you have newer furnace, or you’re planning on having one installed in the near future, it probably doesn’t use a pilot light at all. Instead, an electronic ignition system ignites the burners. In fact, you rarely see standing pilot lights on newly manufactured furnaces anymore. Why did this change happen? Let’s take a look.

Why the Standard Pilot Light Is No Longer the Best Option

The pilot light has been around for a long time. In fact, the term goes back to the Colonial era. Standing pilot lights do their job, and seem to do it well. Yes, they can occasionally go out and need to be relit, but any system—and this includes electronic ignition systems—can malfunction. So what’s the drawback with them?

The problem is a simple one: a pilot light requires a continuous supply of natural gas to keep it burning through the winter. The pilot light has to be burning all the time during the heating season so it ignites the gas from the burners when they turn on. This isn’t an enormous natural gas expenditure, but cumulatively it raises your utility bills and lowers the energy efficiency of the furnace.

The Benefit of Electronic Ignition

Electronic ignition systems are found in most new furnaces, and they require little power to work. There are different types of electronic ignition systems, one of which still uses a pilot flame to ignite the gas burners. But in both cases, the ignition only needs to turn on and use power for a short time before it shuts off. This is one of the reasons newer furnaces have higher energy efficiency ratings in general, even if they aren’t special high efficiency models, than older furnace types. Electronic ignition systems have a number of other advantages as well, such as greater reliability than standing pilot lights.

Let’s take a brief look at the two different types of electronic ignition systems:

  • Hot surface ignition: This type of ignition system work similar to the way an incandescent lightbulb does. Electrical current flows through filaments, turning them hot from electrical resistance heating. This heat is enough to light the burners. Voltage will only run through the ignition system for the time it takes to start up the burners.
  • Intermittent pilot light: This is the igniter that uses a pilot light. However, an electric spark is used to ignite the pilot light, and the pilot remains on for only long enough to turn on the burners, and then it shuts off. The use of natural gas is negligible.

If your current furnace still uses a pilot light, we recommend considering having a new furnace installed. This isn’t just because of the pilot light: the furnace is probably getting up in years and it’s about time to replace it. We recommend looking into furnace replacement after 15 years of service.

No matter how your furnace ignites, if the burners won’t turn on, you need heater repair in Fresno, CA from professionals. You can rely on our HVAC professionals to fix your heating system, no matter what’s wrong with it.

Purl’s Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning: Quality Is the Cornerstone of Our Success Since 1952.

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