Can I Install a Natural Gas Pilot Assembly Myself?

Oct 12, 2023 | Water Heaters

If you’re a looking into purchasing a pilot assembly, you may be wondering if you can install it yourself.

In general, for most individuals and regulations, especially those without experience or training in working with gas appliances, it is safer and more advisable to hire a licensed and experienced contractor or technician to install or replace a pilot assembly. This ensures that the work is done correctly, safely, and in compliance with local regulations.

With that said, the overview offered in this article is solely intended to provide a better understanding of what goes into installing a pilot assembly at your home or business.

In this step-by-step guide, we will discuss the necessary tools and materials, safety considerations, and the installation process for a natural gas pilot assembly.


Understanding the Function of a Natural Gas Pilot Assembly

Before diving into the installation process, it is crucial to understand the function of a natural gas pilot assembly.

A natural gas pilot assembly, often referred to simply as a “pilot assembly,” is a vital component in many natural gas appliances such as water heaters, furnaces, and stoves. Its purpose is to ensure that there is a readily available flame that can ignite the main burner when needed.

In water heaters, the pilot assembly is responsible for igniting the main burner, which heats the water. Without a functioning pilot assembly, the water heater would not be able to provide hot water on demand.

Similarly, in furnaces, the pilot assembly ignites the main burner, which produces heat to warm the air that is then distributed throughout the house. Without a reliable pilot assembly, the furnace would not be able to provide a comfortable indoor environment during cold weather.

In stoves, the pilot assembly is used to ignite the burners that provide heat for cooking. This allows users to easily control the flame and adjust the heat as needed. The pilot assembly ensures that the burners can be ignited quickly and consistently, making cooking more efficient and enjoyable.

Generally speaking, there are a number of key components and functions of a natural gas pilot assembly:

  1. Pilot Burner: The pilot burner is a small gas burner located near the appliance’s main burner. It consists of a gas nozzle or orifice that releases a controlled flow of natural gas and an ignition source (typically a spark or a standing pilot flame).
  2. Flame Sensor: In some pilot assemblies, there is a flame sensor or thermocouple that detects the presence of the pilot flame. If the pilot flame goes out for any reason, the flame sensor or thermocouple sends a signal to the gas valve to shut off the gas supply to the pilot burner and main burner as a safety measure.
  3. The gas valve is another essential component of the pilot assembly. It controls the flow of gas to the pilot orifice and the main burner. When the gas valve is open, a small amount of gas is released through the pilot orifice, creating the pilot flame. Once the main burner needs to be ignited, the gas valve opens further, allowing a larger amount of gas to flow and ignite the main burner. The gas valve is typically controlled by a thermostat or a control board, which senses the temperature and determines when to open or close the valve.
  4. Gas Supply Line: The pilot assembly is connected to the gas supply line of the appliance. It receives a regulated flow of natural gas from the gas supply when the appliance is in operation.
  5. The Thermocouple plays a vital role in the function of the pilot assembly. It is a device that generates a small electric current when heated. In the case of a natural gas pilot assembly, the thermocouple is heated by the pilot flame. This small electric current is used to keep the gas valve open, allowing the main burner to ignite. If the pilot flame goes out, the thermocouple cools down, and the electric current stops flowing. This triggers a safety mechanism that automatically shuts off the gas supply, preventing the release of unburned gas into the environment.
  6. Ignition Mechanism: Depending on the type of appliance, the ignition mechanism for the pilot flame may involve either a standing pilot light (a small, continuous flame) or an electronic ignition system that uses a spark or hot surface ignitor to light the pilot.
  7. The Pilot Orifice is a small opening that releases a precise amount of gas. This gas is then ignited by the pilot flame, which is produced by a small burner. The size of the orifice determines the size of the flame, and it is crucial to ensure that it is properly sized for the specific appliance it is installed in. If the orifice is too large, the flame may be too big and cause inefficient combustion. On the other hand, if the orifice is too small, the flame may not be able to ignite the main burner reliably.


Safety Considerations

Your licensed professional should already know that when working with natural gas, safety should be the highest priority.

The gas supply needs to be turned off and the gas line must be properly capped before proceeding with any installation or maintenance tasks. It’s important to regularly check for gas leaks and ensure proper ventilation in the area where the gas appliance is installed.

Proper ventilation is crucial when using gas appliances. Natural gas combustion produces carbon monoxide, a colorless and odorless gas that can be deadly if inhaled in high concentrations. Ensure that the area where the gas appliance is installed has adequate ventilation to allow the safe dispersal of combustion byproducts. It is also recommended to install carbon monoxide detectors in your home to provide an additional layer of protection.


Necessary Tools and Materials for Installation

While each project varies, below are some of the basic tools that are often required for the installation.


Basic Tools Needed for the Job

  • Adjustable wrench
  • Screwdriver set
  • Pipe wrench
  • Flame-resistant gloves
  • Socket set


Sourcing the Correct Pilot Assembly

It is crucial to source the correct pilot assembly for your specific gas appliance. Different models and brands may have variations in their pilot assembly design and specifications. It is highly recommended to use genuine parts and components from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), such as A.O. Smith. 


Beginning the Installation Process

Below are typically the required steps in the installation of a pilot assembly.


Turning Off the Gas Supply

Prior to any installation or maintenance work, locate the gas shut-off valve and turn it off. Make sure that the valve handle is perpendicular to the gas line, indicating that it is in the closed position. This step is crucial to prevent accidental gas leaks and ensure a safe working environment.


Removing the Old Pilot Assembly

Once the gas supply is turned off, carefully remove the old pilot assembly. Use the appropriate tools, such as an adjustable wrench or screwdriver, to disconnect and disassemble the components. Take note of the order and position of each component for a smooth installation of the new pilot assembly.


Positioning the New Pilot Assembly

Start by positioning the new pilot assembly in its designated location. Align the assembly according to the manufacturer’s instructions, ensuring that it is securely mounted and properly oriented to facilitate a smooth flow of gas.


Connecting the Gas Supply

Connect the gas supply to the new pilot assembly, using the appropriate fittings and connectors. Carefully tighten all connections to ensure a gas-tight seal. Avoid over-tightening, as it may cause damage to the components or result in leaks. Check all connections for any signs of gas leaks, such as hissing sounds or the smell of gas. Address any leaks immediately before proceeding further.


Testing the New Installation

Once the new pilot assembly is securely installed, it is crucial to thoroughly test the installation to ensure proper function and safety.


Checking for Gas Leaks

To check for gas leaks, mix a small amount of dish soap with water in a spray bottle. Spray the soapy water solution onto all gas connection points and joints. If you notice any bubbling or foaming, it indicates a gas leak. In such cases, turn off the gas supply immediately and recheck the connections. If the issue persists, contact a professional plumber or gas technician for further assistance.


Lighting the Pilot and Testing the Flame

After confirming that there are no gas leaks, it’s time to light the pilot flame. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions to ignite the pilot flame safely. Once the flame is lit, observe the size, color, and stability of the flame. A properly functioning pilot flame should be steady, blue, and free from excessive flickering or sputtering. If you notice any irregularities, consult the product manual or seek professional help to diagnose and resolve the issue.

By reading through this article, we hope that you have a better understanding of the natural gas pilot assembly, and generally what’s required in its installation. Always prioritize safety, use genuine parts, and consult professionals. With proper installation and maintenance, your gas appliance will continue to provide reliable and efficient service for years to come.


Product & Pricing

at the moment of posting, we have an A.O Smith Natural Gas Pilot Assembly on sale for $99.88 on the PlumbersParadise storefront.