Light my fire...uh, pilot light
August 9, 2008 8:11 PM   Subscribe

My oven's pilot light is out. Questions about safely re-lighting it are inside.

The pilot light has been out for up to 24 hours - the oven worked fine last night. It is definitely a simple oven with a pilot light rather than electronic ignition.

Today I turned the oven on to 450 degrees for awhile (probably 10 minutes) before knowing that the pilot light was out. I opened windows and door and set up a fan in the kitchen immediately just for human/pet safety.

How (and for how long) should I go about airing out the oven itself before I try to re-light it so the area doesn't totally burst into flames? I think the pilot light is in the broiler area - I just opened the broiler tray and moved the box fan in front of it to suck out any extra that the right thing to be doing? How long should I do that for before I can safely stick a match in there?

Also, is there any reason I shouldn't try using a standard match grasped in kitchen tongs instead of buying the special long-handled matches? Is there something else easy to find/make that I can use?

Any other safety tips? I've lit a stovetop pilot light before, but never an oven pilot light, and I'm sightly nervous.
posted by needs more cowbell to Home & Garden (17 answers total)
About 10 seconds. Once you stick the fan in there you're fine. You might get a little flare up but nothing dangerous.
posted by sanka at 8:14 PM on August 9, 2008

try using a standard match grasped in kitchen tongs instead of buying the special long-handled matches

It's like your question is advice! This is a great, safe idea, and should work just fine. (Just make sure you've got a good grip!)
posted by phunniemee at 8:17 PM on August 9, 2008

If you can't get a good grip on the match with the tongs (my old kitchen tongs were useless for such a task), you could always light the end of piece of dry spaghetti. The flame should hold long enough to light the pilot (yes, I've done it that way myself before -- see above re: useless kitchen tongs).
posted by scody at 8:23 PM on August 9, 2008

OK, you guys provided the reassurance I needed. I just went ahead and lit the thing (using the kitchen tongs and a match), and it worked. No huge leaping flames broke out. Yay!

Thanks everyone!
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:27 PM on August 9, 2008

Just for the record, the gas valve is specifically designed so that when the heat of the lit pilot light is not present, no gas can flow. That's why you have to depress a lever or button while lighting the pilot itself, to overcome this failsafe. So you most likely did not even have to bother with windows or fans because there probably was very little gas if any.

If this were not the case then gas appliances would be ticking time bombs of death.
posted by Rhomboid at 8:40 PM on August 9, 2008 [2 favorites]

Slightly off topic now, but this remind me of lighting the pilot light in the back of my converted coal furnace in my old apartment. I used a match taped to the end of a yardstick. This trick saved my eyebrows on one cold night.

Oh, and you should be fine.
posted by meta_eli at 8:44 PM on August 9, 2008

Also, the gas company will usually light pilots and give the appliance an inspection.
posted by iamabot at 8:50 PM on August 9, 2008

Rhomboid, I did smell gas, though, at least near the stove.

Also, I didn't depress anything to light the pilot light - it just lit. Hmm. This is a pretty old and simple stove, though.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:52 PM on August 9, 2008

You shouldn't have smelled much. If it was anything close to the level of a fire hazard, you'd definitely have known it.

The safety that Rhomboid refers to is based on measuring the heat of the pilot. There's a metal capsule right next to the pilot, with a tube extending away to a valve. If the pilot is lit, thermal expansion causes pressure inside the capsule, which enables the valve so that gas for the burner can turn on. If the pilot is off, the capsule is cold, and that valve isn't on.

It doesn't depend on electricity or any external source of power. (Actually, effectively it's powered by the pilot itself.)

It's been a standard part of all gas appliances for decades. I think it's required by law.
posted by Class Goat at 8:57 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

Right, so then in that design the pilot valve is just always on but that is not really a safety issue because the flow of the pilot is so low compared to the flow of the main valve. You'd need a very small confined space for the flow of the pilot to remain stoichiometric.

Being able to smell gas doesn't mean there is any significant concentration present because the substance that they use to give it a smell was chosen in part because the human nose is extremely sensitive to it. Wikipedia says the human nose can easily detect it at 10 parts per billion.
posted by Rhomboid at 9:01 PM on August 9, 2008

The bigger question is why did the pilot light go out in the first place?

Has it gone out before? Was the gas service disconnected?

If it happens again it may mean there is a problem with the stove or the gas line. Keep an 'eye' on that stove... heh..
posted by wfrgms at 9:26 PM on August 9, 2008

I've been wondering the same thing. This is only a summer sublet, but it hasn't happened before since I've been here.

I did have a Big Failure with pizza stone usage last night, which led me to take the pizza stone out briefly to scrape some stuff off (usually the stone lives on the oven floor), but I'm not sure how that could have done it.
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:51 PM on August 9, 2008

It doesn't usually happen, but a sufficient gust of wind can put the pilot out. Since the pilot is hidden inside the stove, usually that doesn't do it, but in unusual situations enough of a breeze can blow through there to blow it out.
posted by Class Goat at 10:24 PM on August 9, 2008

Just to add a little more to Class Goat said - millivolt system pilot system which I think ClassGoat is referring to , when running, heats a "thermopile" which generates a small amount of electricity which runs a relay to keep the pilot gas flow valve open. The millivolt current then runs to the on/off/temp control, and when those switches are on, then the current holds a relay valve open to allow gas to the main burners. At least that is how a non-electronic ignition furnace, pool heater, bbq works.
posted by dripped at 11:44 PM on August 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

I stand corrected. (thermocouples instead of thermal expansion)
posted by Class Goat at 12:35 PM on August 10, 2008

I've had a good breeze at just the right angle blow out the oven pilot. Nthing that the little whiff of gas isn't ZOMG 'splosion levels. The public safety "if you smell gas" ads coupled with our sensitivity to the smelly-chemical can make you a little paranoid if you're not used to a pilot-light stove.

Which is why my sweetly worrywart parents exclaimed! that they smelled gas!!! was I sure it was okay! every single time they walked into my old apartments.
posted by desuetude at 6:42 PM on August 10, 2008

Seconding that in order for there to be an explosion hazard, the smell of gas would be eye-wateringly bad.
posted by gjc at 7:17 PM on August 10, 2008

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