Gas Fireplace Pilot Lights

Gas Fireplace Pilot Lights (Your Complete Guide)

In Gas Fireplaces by James O'Kelly1 Comment

A gas fireplace pilot light, which can also be referred to as just the pilot in a gas fireplace, is an important part of gas fireplace design and essential for helping gas fireplace flames to start quickly and efficiently.

Our own gas fireplace insert is an older model and the pilot light is the standing flame type rather than the intermittent pilot ignition found often found within more modern electronic ignition gas fireplaces.

Gas Fireplace Ignition
The standing pilot ignition found in our own gas fireplace

However, this article covers everything you would need to know about gas fireplace pilot lights, including the older standing flame and newer intermittent ignition types.

Is There A Pilot Light On A Gas Fireplace?

Pilot lights are typically found inside gas fireplaces. The use of a pilot light helps to make the lighting of the main burner flames more efficient and effective. Pilot lights are a tried and tested component and have been incorporated into gas fireplaces for decades.

What Is A Gas Fireplace Pilot Light?

A gas fireplace pilot light is a small part that can be found as part of the ignition system for the fireplace and creates a smaller flame that’s used to help light the main flames generated by the larger burner. This pilot flame is required every time when lighting the main burner flames in a gas fireplace.

The term pilot or pilot light refers to the smaller, much less noticeable, flame that’s found as part of the ignition system inside a gas fireplace.

The pilot is found as part of the ignition because a form of ignitor is required in order to provide the spark that lights this flame.

For example, the ignition inside our gas fireplace consists of the pilot, a thermocouple and a spark ignitor.

Gas Fireplace Ignition
The pilot forms part of the ignition system in a gas fireplace

We’ve covered the main parts of a gas fireplace pilot light in further detail later in this article.

This flame is then used to provide the starter flame required to start the main burner flames inside a gas fireplace, which are the flames you’d see when using the fireplace.

Do All Gas Fireplaces Have A Pilot Light?

All gas fireplaces will have a form of pilot light. The type of pilot used, whether that’s standing or intermittent, can depend on the type of fireplace and its age.

Where Is the Pilot Light On A Gas Fireplace?

The pilot light in a gas fireplace is typically found adjacent to the main burner, below the fireplace media such as logs or coals. The pilot, found as part of the ignition, can often be seen when looking down from above within the firebox or below through the control area.

As the pilot light is required to help start the main burner flames, the pilot will typically be located next to the main burner tray inside a gas fireplace.

The burner itself will typically be located below the faux media (such as logs or coals) inside the firebox so that the flames can rise up and flicker around the media.

As an example, the burner tray inside our gas fireplace is located at the top of the burner assembly and can reached by removing the coals and the combustion matrix.

Gas Fireplace
The firebox of our gas fireplace
Gas Fireplace Burner Tray
The burner tray in our gas fireplace with the coals removed, showing the pilot light to the left of the burner

To the side of this burner is the ignition system that houses the pilot, which produces the pilot flame.

It may also be possible to locate the pilot light by looking through from the control panel area of the fireplace.

Gas fireplaces often have an area that can be opened at the base of the unit so that the controls to operate the fireplace can be accessed and used.

The controls are often located below the main burner and so it may therefore be possible to see the pilot from this area.

For example, we can see the ignition in our gas fireplace from below by looking through from the left of the controls, after the firefront is removed.

Gas Fireplace Firefront
Removing the firefront on our gas fireplace
Gas Fireplace Ignition
To the left of the controls behind the firefront
Gas Fireplace Ignition
The ignition with pilot

The actual location of this ignition system and pilot will differ between gas fireplaces and so check with the owner’s manual or the manufacturer if you’re not sure. Pilot lights are also commonly found towards the back of the firebox, behind the burner.

See our complete guide to the parts of a gas fireplace for more information.

Gas Fireplace Pilot Light Types

There are typically two main types of pilot light:

  • Traditional Standing Pilot
  • Electronic Intermittent Pilot Ignition (IPI)

There may also be other types of pilot light that are a variation of the two but the above can be the main ones typically found in a gas fireplace.

Standing Pilot Lights

Standing pilot lights have traditionally been used within gas fireplaces and are proven to be very reliable.

These forms of pilot lights are referred to as standing because they provide a constant flame no matter whether the fireplace is on or not.

Our own gas fireplace uses a standing pilot light ignition system meaning that the pilot flame is on constantly throughout the winter months when we want to use the fireplace. With the pilot flame on, we’re able to start the main burner flames in no time at all.

Gas Fireplace Ignition
An example of standing pilot ignition

The benefits are that standing pilot lights can require less ongoing maintenance, but the downside is that you’re burning small amounts of gas even when the fireplace isn’t in use.

Standing pilot lights are typically found in older models of gas fireplace.

Intermittent Pilot Ignition

Intermittent pilot ignition or IPI uses modern technology to be able to provide an ignition system for the main burner in a gas fireplace that doesn’t need to be on all the time.

IPI systems are typically found in newer models of gas fireplace and improve the efficiency of gas fireplaces over using standing pilot lights.

This is because IPI will shut off once the main burner has been turned off, meaning no standing pilot light between fires.

A downside of this is that gas fireplaces with electronic ignition will need to be hooked up to the mains electricity for the house and have a backup battery in place in case of a power outage.

Gas Fireplace Pilot Light Parts

The type and components found in the ignition can differ between different brands and models of gas fireplace, but often include a combination of the following:

  • Pilot
  • Thermocouple
  • Thermopile
  • Spark Ignitor

The pilot is where the gas comes out and provides the small flame used to light the main burner flames (the main flames seen in a gas fireplace).

The spark ignitor provides the spark required to light the pilot flame.

Depending on the model, a gas fireplace may have either a thermocouple or a thermopile, or a combination of both.

A thermocouple uses the heat from the pilot flame to keep the gas flowing. If the pilot flame goes out, the thermocouple will cause a gas supply valve to shut off for safety purposes.

A thermopile can be considered a series of thermocouples as one part and are often used in gas fireplace appliances where more power is required to keep the gas supply going.

The ignition in our own gas fireplace uses a pilot, thermocouple and spark ignitor, but no thermopile.

Gas Fireplace Parts Ignition Labelled
Parts of a gas fireplace pilot light labelled

For more information on gas fireplace parts in general see our complete guide to the parts of a gas fireplace.

What Is The Pilot Position On A Gas Fireplace?

The pilot position on a gas fireplace is the position on the fireplace controls that is used to start the pilot flame. The pilot position is typically set on the control dial with either the dial depressed and turned, or used with a separate spark button to light the pilot flame.

The manual controls for a gas fireplaces will typically have a ‘Pilot’ position that that allows the pilot light to be started.

The pilot position is commonly found as a setting on a control dial, as is with our gas fireplace.

Gas Fireplace Controls Pilot Position
The pilot position on the control dial for our gas fireplace

Depending on the model of gas fireplace being used, the control dial itself may be used to provide the spark to light the pilot flame through rotating the dial further.

Gas Fireplace Controls Spark
We can ignite the pilot using sparks on the same control dial

For other models of gas fireplace, once the dial has been turned to the pilot position there may be a separate button that can be pressed to create the spark.

Other models of gas fireplace can have a different layout to ours and have a separate button for the ignitor

Our guide on how to light and start a gas fireplace explains this pilot position further.

Does A Gas Fireplace Pilot Stay On?

Gas fireplaces traditionally used a standing pilot light where, once lit, the pilot flame would remain on even between fires. Many more modern gas fireplaces use electronic intermittent pilot ignition where the pilot light turns off when the main burner flames go off.

Can You Leave A Gas Fireplace Pilot Light On?

For standing pilot light gas fireplaces, the pilot light can typically be left on throughout the colder months when the fireplace will be used. It may be possible to leave a pilot light on through the months when the fireplace isn’t used depending on the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Leaving a pilot light on is advisable throughout the winter months when the fireplace will be used regularly to ensure quick and efficient start-up of the main burner flames without having to go through the pilot light process each time.

In the warmer months when the gas fireplace won’t typically be used, or used as often, the manufacturer may advise to turn the pilot off. Turning the pilot flame off when not in use also saves on gas, reduces costs and prevents a room from being even warmer.

We personally leave our gas fireplace pilot light on constantly through the colder months and turn it off in the warmer ones.

Always consult the owner’s manual for a particular model of gas fireplace for guidance and advice on leaving the pilot light on.

Should The Pilot Light Always Be On In A Gas Fireplace?

For standing pilot gas fireplaces, the pilot light should typically always remain on when the gas fireplace will be used for a period of time. For warmer seasons when the fireplace wouldn’t be used, the pilot light should typically be turned off, depending on the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Turning On A Gas Fireplace Pilot Light

See our guide on how to light and start the pilot light on a gas fireplace for more information.

Can I Turn Off The Pilot Light On A Gas Fireplace?

Electronic ignition fireplace pilot lights will turn off automatically when the main burner flames turn off. For standing pilot gas fireplaces, the pilot light can be turned off whenever necessary by following the steps in the reverse order to lighting the pilot flame.

How To Turn Off A Gas Fireplace Pilot Light

To turn off the pilot light on a gas fireplace turn the control dial from the pilot position to the off position. The gas supply should also be isolated by turning the gas valve located near to or within the fireplace to the off position.

For our gas fireplace, we simply need to the turn the control dial from the ‘On’ or ‘Pilot’ position clockwise through to the ‘Off’ position located at 12 O’clock.

Gas Fireplace Control Dial
The controls for our gas fireplace in the Off position

For other types of gas fireplace the ‘Off’ position may be highlighted in text.

We then isolate the gas supply to the fireplace by using the dedicate valve if we’re not going to be turning the pilot light back on for an extended period of time.

Gas Fireplace Main
The gas supply to this gas fireplace isolated at the shut-off valve

Always read the owner’s manual specific to your model of gas fireplace for guidance on how to turn off the pilot light before attempting.

Should I Turn Off The Pilot Light On My Gas Fireplace In The Summer?

Turning off the pilot light on a gas fireplace in the summer when the fireplace won’t typically be used can help save energy and lower fuel costs. It can also prevent a gas fireplace from making the room even warmer during the summer months.

What Happens If The Pilot Light Goes Out On A Gas Fireplace?

If the pilot light goes out on a gas fireplace the thermocouple and/or thermopile will help to shut off the gas supply. A pilot can be re-lit once it goes out but for gas fireplaces with standing pilot lights this re-lighting process may have to be undertaken after a short period of time.

If The Pilot Light Is Off On A Fireplace Does The Gas Need To Be Turned Off?

The thermocouple and/or thermopile will prevent gas from escaping a gas fireplace when the pilot light is off. If the fireplace has a dedicated shut-off valve for the gas supply then turning this valve off can help as another layer of safety.

Does A Gas Fireplace Pilot Light Use Much Gas?

The pilot light on a gas fireplace will use much less gas compared to the main burner. For electronic ignition gas fireplaces the pilot will turn off when the main burner is turned off. Gas usage for a standing pilot lights are small but can add up over time.

See our article on how much gas a gas fireplace uses for more information, including explanations on how much gas our own gas fireplace uses for both the pilot and the main burner flames.

How Much Does It Cost To Run A Gas Fireplace Pilot Light?

Running a pilot light on a gas fireplace can typically cost up to $10 a month, but this cost will differ between each situation and vary depending on the local cost of the gas and the efficiency of the gas fireplace in terms of gas usage.

Further Reading

Parts Of A Gas Fireplace Explained

How A Gas Fireplace Works

What’s Inside A Gas Fireplace

Removing A Gas Fireplace

Gas Vs Electric Fireplaces Compared

How To Light A Gas Fireplace


Leave a Comment