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New Gas Furnace in Cincinnati- Should I Choose Automatic or Manual Ignition?

If you’ve ever had to relight a pilot on your furnace, you may have wondered how to do it, and why it’s so difficult.

There are two types of pilots- an electric ignition pilot, and a hand-light pilot. An electric ignition pilot has a button that you can push to light the pilot. This actually works all the time- the pilot only lights when you call for hot water. A hand-light pilot is always burning (but can be blown out and needs to be manually re-lit).

Typically boilers, furnace and/or hot water heaters have a hand-light pilot. Initially, they are lit by the installing heating technician.

A basement draft can blow hand-light pilots out. If you’ve ever had this happen, you know it’s difficult to figure out how to re-light them if you’ve never done it before. The pilot is always in the flame-on mode, which means that there is always fuel being burned, and of course that has a cost associated with it. Most furnace installation technicians will recommend this option because it’s easy to light the pilot if it goes out, and the cost of the furnace is about $100 less.

Electric ignition pilots spark and light the pilot when you call for heat, automatically and within seconds. This means that ignition is easily done by pushing a button and the flame isn’t constantly burning. If the electric ignition fails however, there is no way to manually light the pilot and you’ll need a technician to fix it.

Of course, the flip side of this is that about 20 yrs after the unit is installed, the electronic ignition will more than likely fail and need to be replaced (this will likely run about $200). However, that $200 can pale in comparison to the fuel expenditure you have from the pilot will be burning fuel for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, for 20+ years. You have to ask yourself- “Why does my pilot need to be burning fuel all spring and summer when I won’t be requiring heat?”

There are advantages and disadvantages to both- the bottom line is that an electric ignition furnace will cost slightly more up front and may need repair to the ignition sooner, but will save you quite a bit in the months you don’t need heat.

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