Cozy living room with a Gas Fireplace at the center

Gas Fireplace Won’t Light? Here Is What to Do.

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It can be frustrating when your gas fireplace won’t light but there several easy ways to try and repair it. Gas fireplaces are known for their efficiency and ability to heat your home without creating large cold spots like a traditional wood burning fireplace, and they also don't require consistent tending.  

Modern gas fireplaces have realistic looking logs that are often made from ceramic fibers, and more robust flames similar to their wood-burning counterparts. Even if you already have a wood burning fireplace, it's possible to convert it to a gas fireplace. Read on for our troubleshooting tips to address a gas fireplace that won’t light.

What is a Gas Fireplace?

A gas fireplace is simply a fireplace that uses gas instead of wood as its source of fuel. This kind of fire doesn't create smoke as it burns the gas and relies on the combustion happening in a sealed environment, which makes it more efficient.

Instead of smoke going up a chimney, a gas fireplace releases its carbon dioxide and water vapor through a tube that goes out of the home. Gas fireplaces burn very cleanly, and there are also gas burning models available that don't need special venting.

These fireplaces claim to be safe, but in more air-tight homes, some concern has been raised by the American Lung Association about air quality and lung health. The number of impurities these ventless units put into the air may be minimal, but long-term testing has not been done to determine their impact on our health.

How a Gas Fireplace Works

Pop corn and a cup of coffee at the top of the table and behind it is a gas fireplace

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

A gas fireplace has the appearance of a natural wood fireplace, but the way that it works is slightly different. First, there are a significantly lower amount of impurities put into the air, and instead of smoke going up a chimney, there is a vent that routes water vapors outside of the home.

Gas fireplaces work by having a source of fuel which is the gas, and an ignition in the form of a pilot light. This system is very similar to a conventional gas furnace but on a much smaller scale and some added safety features that make it safer as a focal point of your home.

There’s no need to feed or tend a gas fireplace, and if your gas fireplace won’t light the solution is likely a simple one such as a faulty part, or a small amount of maintenance being required. The logs in this kind of fireplace are mostly for appearances and have little to no impact on how the fire burns other than making it look realistic.

To start a gas fireplace, you push a button, and the lighting mechanism starts the fire. There's no need to do anything else other than maybe close or adjust the doors to your liking. By closing the doors or vents, less heat may enter the home, but opening them will offer additional heat to flow into the room.

Gas fireplaces can burn either natural gas or propane depending on where you are and what fuel you have. It is likely that if you already have a gas burning appliance, you’ll use the same type of gas for your gas fireplace. Each year there is a small amount of maintenance that needs to be performed to ensure that the fire will light and burn correctly.

This maintenance should generally be performed by a certified technician that has specific training in maintaining and repairing gas fireplaces. There is some maintenance that you can do yourself, but it is generally included in an annual technician visit.

Gas fireplaces can help lower your heating costs because it warms the room that you are spending time in but doesn’t cause the rest of your home to become colder as is the case with a wood burning fireplace. Some models also connect to a thermostat on your wall and will adjust automatically to put out more or less heat based on the temperature you select.

There are many different models of gas fireplaces, and some even come with a remote that you can use to turn on the flames, adjust them, and make other changes. Some light cleaning is required to remove soot or dust that can build up around the unit. It is also possible that carbon can build up around the area where the logs are or around the gaskets to the doors.

Regular cleaning of your gas fireplace is crucial as it keeps the unit operating safely and prevents excess impurities from entering your home. Cleaning the area can also keep other particles from burning that shouldn't and holds your fire securely in the enclosed fireplace.

Newer gas fireplaces have been designed to more closely resemble wood-burning fireplaces, but there are still some differences. The logs in wood-burning fireplaces change over time as the fire is regularly tended and more fuel becomes available. In a gas fireplace, the logs stay the same, and the flames from the burning gas move around them in predictable ways.

If your gas fireplace won't light, there are a few things that you can check before you call a technician to take a closer look. Since there aren’t many parts involved with a gas fireplace, the number of things that could be wrong is limited, but it's worth checking various components to ensure they are in proper working order.

Troubleshooting a Gas Fireplace That Won’t Light

Gas fireplaces don’t have many parts so troubleshooting one that is refusing to light should be a rather quick process. By performing regular maintenance on your gas fireplace, you can ensure:

  • All of the parts are in good working order
  • The unit is operating safely and combusting properly
  • The ventilation is adequate

Most gas fireplace manufacturers recommend at least annual checkups for your unit that are performed by certified technicians.

The Pilot Light, Igniter, and Thermocouple

The pilot light is the most frequent problem when it comes to a gas fireplace that is having trouble lighting. This part of the fireplace is responsible for lighting the gas that comes out of the fuel line, and it generally stays “on” waiting to be used but is safe in an enclosed system.

The pilot light system has its own gas line that frequently runs alongside the gas line that feeds the fireplace to keep it lit. This tiny flame takes very little fuel to keep running, and when you are frequently using your fireplace, it's worth having it ready to use. 

It's possible for the gas that fuels the pilot light to fail at the part where the gas valve is present, and this can mean that you need a new valve. Alternatively, the problem may be easily fixed by opening the valve and allowing the gas to flow through and fuel the pilot light.

Another issue is that the gas is moving out of the pilot light area, but there's no light or spark when you try to turn on the unit. This issue can stem from a failed spark igniter, which is what starts the pilot light. Look around the area where the pilot light, igniter, and thermocouple sit and clear away any visible debris, or dust.

Lastly, it's possible that the pilot light is on, but it doesn't stay lit, and this can mean that your thermocouple has failed or is otherwise unserviceable. A homeowner can often replace this part, but many prefer to call a technician to ensure the installation is completed correctly, and the whole unit is inspected and determined to be safe.

One other trick is that you can blow air from a compressed air can into the pilot light area to get rid of spider eggs or any other debris that may be blocking the way. After you've done this, wait a few minutes and try lighting the unit again.

Loose Connections

A person's feet, a cup of coffee, smartphone and a remote placed at the top of the table and behind them is a gas fireplace

Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay

Once you've established that the pilot light, igniter, and thermocouple are likely in good working order, it's time to figure out if there are any loose connections or bad parts in the system. It's also worth checking the valves to ensure that none of them are defective, and with electrical ignition units, you may want to double check that they are getting power.

If you smell gas and haven’t turned on the fuel, or altered any parts, you may want to turn off the gas to the fireplace to ensure that there isn't a gas leak. If you suspect there's a gas leak, it is best to call a professional and turn off the gas to the whole fireplace.

When to Call A Technician

If you aren’t comfortable troubleshooting your gas fireplace, then it's best to call in a professional technician that can look at your fireplace and determine the issue. While some fireplace problems are easily solved with simple solutions, some are much more involved and should be addressed by a technician. 

If you are in doubt about the state of your fireplace, or if it hasn't received service in the last year, it's probably best to call a technician and get an annual checkup and the recommended maintenance for your unit.

Featured Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay


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