Gas Fireplace Ignition Flame

Why Some Gas Fireplaces Always Have A Flame (And Some Don’t)

In Gas Fireplaces by James O'KellyLeave a Comment

Gas fireplaces have traditionally had systems put in place to make the process of starting a fire on demand more efficient.

One of these systems would be a standing pilot light where a small flame would always be present so that the main fire could be started instantly.

In more recent years, technology has developed to a point where a flame in many modern gas fireplaces doesn’t have to be on all the time.

Older models of gas fireplace that use a traditional standing pilot ignition will have always have a flame, albeit very small and unnoticeable. This standing pilot light can be turned off but re-establishing the pilot light may be a more onerous procedure. Modern gas fireplace with intermittent pilot ignition systems won’t always have a flame.

Our own gas fireplace uses a standing pilot light system and so once we start the pilot for winter there’s always a very small flame that allows us to get us to a full gas fire quickly and easily.

We discuss in more detail below why our gas fireplace needs to have a standing pilot light and why some more modern versions of gas fireplace don’t always have a flame.

Do Gas Fireplaces Always Have A Flame?

Gas fireplaces that use a standing pilot ignition system will have a pilot flame that’s always on.

Gas fireplaces that use an intermittent pilot ignition system won’t have and/or require a flame that’s always on as the pilot can be switched on and off as required.

The standing pilot ignition was traditionally used in gas fireplaces as a way of being able to start the main burner on demand and use the full flames to start producing heat for a home.

Without this standing pilot light, the lighting process of a gas fire would have been more onerous with potentially longer waiting times between lighting attempts.

Our own gas fireplace is an older model from the early 2000’s and uses a standing pilot light.

Gas Fireplace
Our gas fireplace
Gas Fireplace Ignition
The ignition system in our gas fireplace

Nowadays you can expect gas fireplaces to typically incorporate the use of an intermittent pilot ignition system where the pilot will be turned on and off as and when required, saving gas (and making them much more efficient overall).

Standing Pilot Gas Fireplace Ignition Systems

The conventional standing pilot ignition system, or millivolt system, was traditionally used in gas fireplaces because it was proven to be a safe and effective way of maintaining the ability to start a gas fireplace quickly on demand.

A gas fireplace with a standing pilot ignition has a pilot light that has standing flame (i.e. the flame on the pilot in the gas fireplace is always on).

However, the standing pilot light (the flame that’s always on) only needs to be running when you intend to use the gas fireplace, typically throughout the winter months, as gas fireplaces, including the standing polit light, can be turned off for much of the year when you don’t need it.

As example, our gas fireplace is an older model that uses a standing pilot ignition.

The ignition itself is located next to the controls within the burner assembly area (for more information we show what’s inside a gas fireplace in more detail here).

Gas Fireplace Ignition
The ignition located next to the controls in our gas fireplace insert

The components that make up the ignition system in our gas fireplace insert include:

  • Pilot light
  • Thermocouple
  • Spark ignitor
Gas Fireplace Ignition
The three smaller components that make up the ignition system in our gas fireplace
Gas Fireplace Ignition
The ignition from above

These photos were taken during summer when the fireplace wasn’t in use and no standing pilot flame is visible.

In order to start the pilot light in our gas fireplace, and therefore start the main flames, we need to use the control dial located at the base of the unit found by removing the firefront.

Turning this dial through the spark position to the pilot position starts the pilot light.

Gas Fireplace Control Dial
The controls that we use to light our gas fireplace

If a gas fireplace has the word ‘pilot’ written on any of the controls then it’s most likely a gas fireplace that uses a standing pilot ignition system.

If the pilot flame goes out then we need to wait a short while before we can start again, as explained in the instruction manual:

If the pilot is extinguished, wait three minutes before repeating the ignition procedure.’

Focal Point Fires

This pilot light will be a standing flame and will remain as an always-on flame throughout the duration of the fireplace’s use in winter.

Turning the control dial further anticlockwise starts the main burner using the flame from the pilot.

Gas Fireplace Burner Tray
The pilot helps start the main burner

It’s worth noting that the main burner flame doesn’t need to stay on, only the pilot in a standing pilot ignition system gas fireplace.

However, the problem with standing pilot ignition systems is that they cause the fireplace to be less efficient overall because fuel is constantly being burned to maintain a flame that’s always on.

This issue helped lead to the development and incorporation of electronic ignition systems in gas fireplaces.

Electronic Gas Fireplace Ignition Systems

The use of electronic ignition systems, or intermittent pilot ignition (IPI), in gas fireplaces rather than standing pilot ignition systems help to overcome the problem of wastage of fuel and help to make gas fireplaces more efficient (along with other factors such as using sealed combustion chambers in direct vent gas fireplaces).

Although our own gas fireplace has a standing pilot ignition system (where the pilot flame is always on), if we were to update this fireplace with a new one then it’s likely that the new unit will incorporate an electronic ignition system, especially if going with a direct vent gas fireplace over a natural vent.

Direct Vent Gas Fireplace
More modern gas fireplaces, such as direct vent types, will often use electronic ignition systems

If a gas fireplace uses an electronic ignition system then it won’t always have a flame.

The pilot light only starts on demand once the main burner gas fireplace flames are required and is off (with no standing flame) when the main flames are off.

In order for a gas fireplace using an electronic ignition system to constantly be able to provide the spark that starts the pilot light and the main burner on demand, an electricity supply is often required.

While our own gas fireplace uses the conventional standing pilot ignition system, it doesn’t have any electricity supply.

However, more modern versions of gas fireplace commonly require hooking up to the home electrical supply as well as gas, which helps provide the power to the electronic ignition system on demand and prevent the need for a pilot flame to always be on.

These types of gas fireplace will also typically have a built-in backup battery (or bought as an optional extra) in case of a power outage.

We discuss gas fireplaces and their requirement for electricity in another article.

Further Reading

Parts Of A Gas Fireplace Explained

How To Light A Gas Fireplace

Gas Fireplace Hearth Requirements

Ways To Know If You Have A Gas Fireplace

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