Pilot Light Goes Out
Q: The pilot light on my gas water heater, up in the attic, keeps going out. What can I do to avoid this?
Last summer the pilot light on my gas water heater, up in the attic, kept going out. I'm no longer a spring chicken and don't want to climb up there. What can I do to avoid it?
—Sharon Savill, Allen, TX
Richard Trethewey replies: A water heater in the attic might seem odd to most Northerners, but it's a fairly common practice in areas without freezing weather. Now I can't say for sure what's causing your problem, but I can round up the usual suspects.
First, have your heater serviced to see if the thermocouple is faulty. This safety device is supposed to shut off the gas if the pilot light goes out. But if it's not working right, it'll shut off the pilot light instead.
Second, make sure the pilot is protected from drafts. There should be a properly installed downdraft hood on top of the tank and a pilot-light baffle in place near the bottom. Lots of people leave the baffle off after lighting the pilot, and then even a gust of air through a gable vent can put it out.
If the light keeps going out after you take these precautions, perhaps there's a fan in the attic that's blowing it out. Water-heater manufacturers typically recommend not placing a water heater in an attic where there is any sort of power ventilation, including gable fans, power roof vents, and whole-house fans. Also, make sure your bathroom exhaust fan is connected to ductwork that vents to the outside; you'd be amazed at how many times I've seen these fans blowing air directly into an attic. If fans are at fault, you'll need to equip your heater with separate ductwork to ensure that it gets a dedicated supply of combustion air.
You should not undertake any of these solutions on your own. Hire a licensed heating professional to do the work.