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Old 12-02-2019, 02:23 PM
dolphinboy's Avatar
dolphinboy is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Bigfork, Montana
Posts: 4,489

Gas Fireplace Question

We recently purchased a house built about 15 years ago that included a gas fireplace. Even though I live where wood is plentiful and cheap, I prefer a gas fireplace because it's less messy. We have natural gas supplied to the house from the town. I noticed a few days ago that the fireplace has a fairly large pilot light that is always lit whether the fireplace is "on" or not. What I can't figure out is why there is a pilot light at all. Since the fireplace is rarely used the pilot light is on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for no reason at all.

Recently when the pilot light on my water heater went out I noticed it had a piezo-electric igniter to relight it. As I understand it, when the pilot light goes out the gas is automatically shut off to the water heater. Why wouldn't they use an electric igniter on the fireplace so the gas is only running when it needs to be? What am I missing here? Is it a safety issue? Is it better just to have a pilot light running all of the time?

Someone, please fight my ignorance.
"I am in love with Montana. With other states I have admiration, respect, recognition, even some affection, but with Montana it is love." - John Steinbeck

Last edited by dolphinboy; 12-02-2019 at 02:24 PM.
Old 12-02-2019, 02:37 PM
dougrb is offline
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 190
I used to turn off the pilot light on my furnace in the summer. Someone told me it is better to leave it on to prevent condensation. I have no idea if that is true.
Old 12-02-2019, 02:53 PM
spifflog is offline
Join Date: Jan 2003
Location: Washington, DC
Posts: 2,465
Cost. That electronic igniter is much more costly than a plain old pilot light. We just costed out a gas fireplace insert to replace the one you're talking about. It was pretty cheap until I wanted to upgrade from the standard pilot light to the electronic version. Then it went from "pretty cheap" to over $1,000.
Old 12-02-2019, 03:06 PM
Anny Middon is offline
Join Date: Oct 2012
Posts: 1,253
Our gas fireplace has a "match light" ignition. That is, when we want to use it, we turn the gas on to a low setting and immediately use a lit fireplace match to ignite it.
Old 12-02-2019, 03:47 PM
Machine Elf is offline
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: Challenger Deep
Posts: 12,401
Originally Posted by spifflog View Post
Cost. That electronic igniter is much more costly than a plain old pilot light. We just costed out a gas fireplace insert to replace the one you're talking about. It was pretty cheap until I wanted to upgrade from the standard pilot light to the electronic version. Then it went from "pretty cheap" to over $1,000.
Weigh this against the fuel cost for a pilot light. If it's on 24/7/365, it might cost anywhere from $35-$148, or it might cost anywhere from $219-$657. It depends on who is doing the estimating and what fuel is being used. Since OP is on natural gas, it's probably closer to those lower figures, i.e. $35-$219 per year.

You can trim this if you turn off the PL when the fireplace won't be used for an extended period, but of course the warmer part of the year has "fuzzy edges" where you just want to use the fireplace less often (as opposed to suddenly transitioning from "use it a lot" to "don't use it at all"). That may make it inconvenient to turn the PL on/off a lot.

If trying to decide between installing a PL fireplace and an electronic-ignition fireplace, $219 per year would mean roughly a five-year payback for getting the more expensive model. But if only $35 per year, then the payback is more like 30 years, difficult to justify. Manufacturer surely knows their PL gas flow rates and can estimate ongoing PL operating costs for their new models.
Old 12-02-2019, 05:25 PM
Melbourne is online now
Join Date: Nov 2009
Posts: 5,440
Electric igniters are a 'new invention'. (40 or 50 years ago). The continuous pilot light was the traditional method, and a lot of people stuck with tradition.

Two reasons: the problem of installing electricity (not a real problem if there is a fan in the same place), and the fact that a gas heater will continue to work even when the electricity goes off (unless it also requires a fan).

New installations with fans always get electric igniters. Old installations with no fans, never. My hot water system runs a pilot light (which blows out every 5-10 years on a very windy day): my ducted heating has electric ignition.
Old 12-02-2019, 05:43 PM
bob++ is offline
Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Worcestershire UK
Posts: 6,862
There is a patent registered in New York back in 1968:
a new and improved electrical igniter system for fuel burners, such as cook stoves, which is simple in construction, reliable in operation and which produces repetitively, strong ignition sparks with a minimum of electrical current consumption. The system is particularly suitable for igniting individual burners in a domestic fuel gas cooking stove so that standing flame-type pilot burners and their attendant heat are eliminated without impairing the efliciency of ignition of the burners.
Old 12-02-2019, 05:59 PM
FinsToTheLeft is online now
Join Date: Nov 2010
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Posts: 589
I typically light the pilot in October and leave it on until April, although Iíve gone through seasons without lighting it. I find it a bit fiddly to light as you have to turn the gas knob to a set position, hold it in, and press the piezo igniter repeatedly. If Iím down on the ground doing this, itís hard to see the pilot so I usually take 2-3 attempts.


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