Water Heater Pilot Lights

Dear NH,
My pilot light won't stay lit on my hot water tank and I've been told it is the thermocouple. I am very handy with most things around the house and would like to try and install this myself. It is only a $6.00 part and yet they want $40 to install it! Could you tell me the steps to installing a thermocouple. I have the bottom cover off the tank and am familiar with where the pilot light is. Could you please walk me through this?

This is one of the less dangerous gas appliance repairs since you do not have to disconnect any gas lines. As a disclaimer, I am hesitant to encourage inexperienced people to do their own gas appliance installations and repairs because of the danger involved. Plumbers have special safety procedures and tools to minimize the risk of explosion or fire.

First things first, turn off the gas at the main shutoff. If the heater has been running, let it cool for at least 20 minutes. The thermocouple is located near the pilot light. It is designed as a safety feature that automatically turns off the gas supply should the pilot go out. It works by generating a small amount of electricity when heated, keeping the gas valve open. The gas control valve is essentially a "dead man switch." If the electricity stops flowing, the switch opens and the valve closes. I cannot tell you the exact location or appearance of the thermocouple, but if you purchase an exact replacement you should be able to visibly find it, since it will be in plain view behind the inspection plate.

There is a tube attached to the thermocouple that must be disconnected from the gas control valve. Once you unscrew the nut holding the tube in place, you will be able to slide the thermocouple out of the bracket on which it rests. If there is another fastening method, it should be obvious by visual inspection of the old thermocouple. The new thermocouple is installed by the reverse procedure. Slide it in place and then attach the thermocouple tube to the gas control valve. If the new thermocouple does not attach exactly like the old one, stop the repair and call or visit your parts supplier to be sure that you have the correct part! Hope this is helpful and be careful!


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