Even water heaters can go on vacation

: Before going on vacation, I turned off my gas water heater. Well, when I returned to no hot water, it dawned on me that I didn't know how to light the pilot. I really do like hot showers. Please advise me as to what I should do.

A: Next time you go on vacation, you don't need to turn the water heater off.

I assume you wanted to save energy by turning the unit off, but you can get the same effect with the dial on the front of the water heater.

Do you see the word "vacation" on the knob? Just turn the dial counterclockwise and stop at that spot.

All this will do is turn down the thermostat just like you turn down the heat when you leave the house. That way, instead of relighting the pilot upon return, you will simply have to turn the thermostat up to the desired temperature.

Lighting the pilot is a simple job, but most people are a little apprehensive about it. Here you are sticking a match deep into the bowels of the water heater waiting for a catastrophic flash of fire. Instead, you get a little flame.

Remove the outer cover of the water heater. This is located near the bottom of the unit near the thermostat dial. Inside, there is a second door to access the burner. At the edge of the burner is the pilot.

There is an area where the burner pilot and the thermocouple (looks like a wire that's a little thicker than a coat hanger) meet. These don't touch, and there is a small gap between them. This is where you hold the match.

You will need to squat down to see inside the bottom of the water heater. A headlamp would work great here because you will need both hands, one to hold the match and the other to start the flow of gas.

There is a long list of safety precautions stamped on the side of the water heater, so read them before you begin.

Turn the thermostat dial to its lowest setting (think vacation). Turn the gas control knob to "pilot" and press it downward. This will start the flow of gas to the pilot. You may hear a hissing sound.

Hold a lighted match to the pilot -- a long fireplace match works great -- and you should get a flame. Keep the gas control knob depressed for about a minute and then release it. The pilot should stay lit. Turn the knob to "on" and close the inner door.

Turn the thermostat knob up to the desired level. As you turn the knob, you will hear the burner fire up. Close the outer door and prepare for hot showers in an hour or so.

Until the water inside the tank is heated, you will likely hear a dripping noise. This is normal. It is just condensation dripping and sizzling at the burner.

Michael D Klimek is a licensed contractor and president of Pro Handyman Corp. Questions may be sent by e-mail to: questions@pro-handyman.com. Or, mail to: 2301 E. Sunset Road, Box 8053, Las Vegas, NV 89119. His Web address is: www.pro-handyman.com.


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