Do Furnaces Have Pilot Lights? Which Ones Don’t? (Gas, Electric)

To you a furnace, you have to run it first. You do that by using one of the furnace ignition methods. Since forever, all gas and electric furnaces had a pilot light ignition. That small blue flame. Today, not all furnaces have a pilot light.

Why is that?

Well, furnace technology evolves. So do furnace ignition methods. Example: Do new furnaces have pilot lights? In most cases not anymore. Ever since 2010 or so, electronic ignition systems are built into the new furnaces. They are slowly replacing the traditional pilot ignition.

do all furnaces have pilot lights
Pilot light of the gas furnace. You can distinguish the distinct small blue flame; this furnace has pilot lights.

Electronic ignition has its advantages, however. Pilot lights have to burn all the time and that consumes energy every second (wastes gas, electricity). Electronic ignition is discharged only when you need to fire up a furnace.

We will look into two topics, based on the type of furnace you have:

  1. Do gas furnaces have pilot lights?
  2. Do electric furnaces have pilot lights?

The best way to tell if your furnace has pilot lights is to just crack open the furnace’s manual and check. Newer models will likely have some kind of electronic ignition; be it intermittent pilots or hot surface pilots. Not everybody has that manual still lying around, however. For all those, we’ll try to help you out with this article.

Here’s the deal:

Some furnaces do have pilot lights, some have electronic ignition.

What happened?

Let’s first look at what happened to furnaces using pilot lights. Pilots lights were the ideal ignition system in the past, but they are not anymore. Here’s why:

Why New Furnaces Don’t Have Pilot Lights?

Up till about 2010, most furnaces came with pilot lights. After 2010, the trend shifted to electronic ignition systems (intermittent pilots or hot surface pilots).

Apart from the convenience of using electronic systems, here’s is the main reason why new furnaces don’t have pilot lights ignition:

Pilot lights are actually expensive to run.

Let’s do a quick calculation:

Average pilot lights consume an equivalent of about 600 BTU per hour. We need to use 600 BTU worth of gas in a gas furnace every hour to keep these pilots lit. If we run a gas furnace 24/7 all year round, the 600 BTU per hour is 14,400 BTU per day; that’s a total of 5,256,000 BTU per year.

How much does that cost us in terms of gas? Looking at natural gas prices collected by the US Energy Information Administration, 1,000,000 BTU per year can cost anywhere from about $2 to over $10 per million BTU.

That means that you will likely pay about $10/year to as high as $50/year just to keep this old-school furnace ignition pilots running. And you don’t have to.

Here’s the short of it:

It costs $10+ to run the furnace’s pilot lights per year. With the new electronic ignition systems, the costs are likely less than $1 per year.

Let’s look at which gas and electric unit furnaces have the standard pilot light ignition:

Do Gas Furnaces Have Pilot Lights? (And Which Ones?)

Pilot lights were primarily invented to start gas furnaces. These run on either natural gas or propane; both of these substances can be fired up with a pilot light.

Gas furnaces without pilot lights started appearing in the early 2000s. Some producers started replacing the traditional pilot lights in gas furnaces with electronic ignition in their new models. You can read more about how the electronic ignition works here.

After around 2010, more and more gas furnaces didn’t come with pilot lights.

Now, if you have an existing furnace, you’re probably asking yourself this:

“Does my gas furnace have a pilot light?”

If you can’t check the manual or check the gas furnace to see if it has a small blue flame (that is the pilot light), you can get an idea of what kind of ignition system is based on the age of the gas furnace.

Here’s how you do that:

  • 30-year-old gas furnace. All gas furnaces made prior to 2000 have pilot lights. A 30-year gas furnace will most definitely have pilot lights.
  • 20-year-old gas furnace. Most probably has pilot lights. Probably more than 99% of gas furnaces produced in the early 2000s have pilot lights.
  • 10-year-old gas furnace. Can have a pilot light, or can have an electronic ignition. The likelihood of 2010s made gas furnaces having pilot lights is less than 50%.
  • 5-year-old gas furnace. Most probably has electronic ignition; no pilot lights.
  • New gas furnace. All new gas furnaces don’t come with pilot lights.

As a general rule, all AFUE 80+ high-efficiency gas furnaces have a modern design. As such, they don’t have pilot lights.

All in all, you can figure out if your gas furnace has pilot lights by looking at when it was made. It will give you a good idea at least.

Do Electric Furnaces Have Pilot Lights? (And Which Ones?)

Electric furnaces have pilot lights, the same as gas furnaces. Do all electric furnaces have pilot lights? Of course not. The trend of replacing pilot lights with electronic ignition systems in electric furnaces was similar to the one happening in gas furnaces.

That means that before about 2010, most of the electric furnaces with pilot lights were produced. After 2010, we see less and less electric furnaces with pilot lights.

How to figure out of your electric furnaces has pilot lights?

You can check the manual. If you lost or misplaced it, you can check on the basic specification sheet of your furnace, and look at the built date. If the furnace was made before 2010, you likely have a pilot light. If it was made after 2010, you’ll most probably have an electronic ignition system.

Hope all of this will help you determine if your furnace has a pilot light. It is also important to understand that electronic ignition systems are better than pilot lights because they don’t waste gas or electricity to run.

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