Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot Gas

Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot Gas

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You will have to wait another day for me to continue on the ammunition posts.  I had plans to tell you about sectional densities and such, but I am actually going to tell you a story about my gas hot water heater going out two days ago.  I will tell you what I did to troubleshoot & repair the hot water heater, and some basics on how to light the pilot gas burner and main burner.

Why would I do this?  I feel that a good technical knowledge and troubleshooting is great for anyone that is into survival.  It’s not all about tactics, zombies, running into the forest for months, and eating bugs to stay alive.  You may need to fix things that break instead of calling someone in to replace it.  Second, just step back a moment and pay attention to a largly overlooked appliance and alternative water source in your home.  That is a 50, 60, or 90 gallon water tank to draw from if your service goes out, and a decent heater will keep a tank hot for MANY hours without flame.

First, before I get into it, allow me to throw some warnings at you.  Some people know how fires work, how fuel works, and how toxic you can make air if the fire is burning inefficiently.  Some people can just rip things apart fix them and place them back together.  Some people either don’t know this information, can’t figure it out, or both.  If you unfortunately can’t figure this stuff out, please don’t hurt yourself or your family trying.  At a minimum (and a better idea), get someone that knows what they are doing to teach you!  We are all created with equal liberties and natural rights, not with equal gifts and talents.

So my wife calls me at work and tells me that she smelled gas at the hot water heater.  She and the children got out of the house and called our local utility and fire department.  I applaud her for this simple fact, she knows nothing about it and just got out and called people that can help while I was working.  What she easily could have done was to turn off the gas valve going to the heater before escaping, and I failed to show her this, so I have homework to do.

I will show her the cut-off valves for this and our burner for our heater.  I will also show her the disconnects to specific large appliances.  There is some base information she needs, that I have failed to show her and I am someone that tries to show her everything.  So how clueless do you think she would have been on home systems if I never tried to show her anything.

Back to the story… She calls me again and says that the technician from the utility company took a look at it and checked some stuff out.  After he put it back together, first it wouldn’t light, but he eventually got it to light.  Once it lit, and they started the main burner, they quickly smelled gas again.  This wasn’t gas, but pure CO (carbon monoxide) that escapes a poor flame and is toxic and deadly.  He took a look at the burner while lit, and described to her that the flame was just floating throughout the chamber that houses the burner.  The flame should not look like waves of the ocean in the space, it actually should look similar to a gas stove burner, and it should also have a fairly nice blue flame.

He told her that he did everything that he was allowed to do to the heater (which I disagree with, and you will see why in a minute) by the company.  He shut off the gas to the heater, and gave here the “Corporate Red Tag of Doom” that basically says, “We see that you have a problem.  We take no responsibility for your device.  It is not functional, so get it fixed by a professional.”  Then he left.

Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot gas water heater components

Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot gas water heater components

Now, I have repaired my hot water heater before and my occupation of many years has me working continually on industrial size burners, so I had a few ideas swimming around in my head.  I am adding a photo with the parts so you can see what I am talking about.  At work and on my way home, I was thinking of 1) The Flue is dirty not allowing full exhaust, 2) The burner assembly is dirty, or 3) The bottom of the heater is dirty which would not allow air to enter the chamber.

20130808 Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot gas burner components

Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot gas burner components

So, I get home and the first thing I did was take the burner assembly out of the chamber to look at it and see if it was damaged.  It looked pretty good except that the ignition wire had the insulation burned off of it from the floating flames.

I grabbed my air compressor and shop-vac, and brought them into the kitchen.  I cleaned out the burner assembly ports and orifices with the compressed air.

I then cleaned the chamber for the burner (under the water tank) with compressed air and the shop vac.  I just stuck the shop vac in the small opening and blew air all over the place with the compressed air.  It cleaned it really well.

Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot gas basic air flow

Gas Hot Water Heater, Troubleshooting, Repair, Light the Pilot gas basic air flow

Now at the bottom of the camber is a screen, and I paid special attention to blowing it out, because this is where the air for combustion actually enters the heater.  The chamber and screen were especially dirty.  I took the shop-vac and cleaned the big drip pan under the heater of dust and debris, and then found any hole I could on the bottom of the heater chamber and cleaned that out.

Why did I do these things? I have had the flame sensor go out before, so I was familiar with the burner assembly.  Also I have had issues with the flame before as well, so I had completely removed the flue baffle cleaned it and slowly figured out that it was the air inlet at the bottom of the chamber at that time also.

So, to hold true to the title, let me explain quickly how to start the burner and pilot.  You need to have gas to the valve on front of the heater.  The heater valve has two knobs on it usually, one for lighting, and one for temperature control.

Take the temperature knob to pilot, and have the lighting knob in off.

Then take the knob to pilot, and press down (at least on my unit), this purges the line.  With it pressed down, at the same time you will press the ignition button which should light the pilot.  Hold down knob still to ensure you have air out of line.

Next, release the knob and let it spring back up on you and turn it to heat, main burner, or control (whatever your model uses).

Now, dial your temperature control up until it switches the main burner on.  Now look in the window to verify that the flame is a basic blue bowl shape coming out of the burner.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ken Jensen is an American, Ex-Military Patriot that is knowledgeable and experienced in Electronics and Industrial Electrical design and maintenence. Ken is also an experienced Nuclear Reactor Operator and also worked on nuclear instrumentation. He grew up hunting, camping and spending time outdoors. In adulthood, Ken has spent many years learning wilderness survival and, eventually, urban survival.

Ken is the author of a book, The Honey and The Bee and is the main author and contributor to The Clever Survivalist Blog, Survival Guide and The Prepper Podcast, Survival Podcast
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