Of the many things that are complicated in life, choosing a fireplace shouldn't be one of them. When beginning the process of looking for the right fireplace for your home, you may ask questions like: Do I want an indoor fireplace? Would it be more fun to have an outdoor fireplace? Do I need a fire pit or a gas log set? So. Many. Choices!
Thankfully, the professionals at our company know, there are many options to choose from when it comes to venting, ignition systems, and styles. So, we want you to use this article to break down the differences among fireplace pilot lights to help make your decision that much easier and the process of purchasing a new fireplace that much smoother.
It goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that fireplace pilot lights can be very confusing to understand. While four main options exist, several choices within those categories can appear to be a crossbreed of a system from another category. We hope by the end of this article, you will feel confident about choosing the pilot light system that best suits your needs and makes your home warm and fuzzy.
What are the types of gas pilots?
There are four main types of pilot lights that operate in gas fireplaces:
Millivolt or Standing Pilot Lights – This type of pilot light involves a system that burns even when in standby mode. The pilot light does not switch on and off with the click of a button. It requires three different steps to turn on. Once it is turned on, it will continue to burn until you shut it off. During colder months, this is not a bad thing because it keeps the lighting system warm and helps prevent "cold starting" which may cause damage to your appliance.
Different types of millivolt gas valves:
Safety Pilot and Thermostatic valves are common options for gas log sets and wall heaters. These two can only be operated manually by turning a knob and pressing the ignition button.
- Millivolt manual pilot light heater
The third option is referred to as a "remote ready" standing pilot. This pilot light can be operated manually and typically comes packaged that way. But the "remote ready" phrasing means it does have the capability, which is already built into the appliance, to work by remote or a wall switch. Sometimes, there may be an additional fee involved to hook up your fireplace so it works off of remote access.
To operate a manual standing pilot for a fireplace, you need to :
1) Open the gas valve
- Turning the gas valve key
2) Turn the control knob to "pilot" and press it in
- Gas control knob
3) While also rapidly hitting the ignition button
- Pressing the ignition button
After manually turning on the gas valve and igniting the pilot light, those two steps don't need to be repeated unless you decide to turn the pilot light off to save gas. It is a good idea to turn off a standing pilot light during warmer months when it will not be used. This will keep the pilot assembly from wearing down and needing to be replaced more quickly.
For the systems that have been hooked up to work remotely, you will still need to turn on the gas valve and use the control knob to ignite the pilot. Once the pilot is lit you can control the main burner from your remote and not have to go through the process of relighting the pilot every time.
Types of Switches for Millivolt/ Standing Pilot lights:
Wall switches – These serve the same function as the control knob that uses "off", "pilot" and "on" to start the ignition (that we mentioned in step 2 of how to operate a manual standing pilot)
- Gas control knob
Remotes – These have a range of approximately 25 feet and "speak" to a receiver that serves as a battery holder, antenna, and solid-state switch. The receiver can be housed in the base of the fireplace or installed into a switch box in a nearby wall for easy access and battery replacement. Some remotes are basic in their features and only have an on/off button while others have the capabilities to control temperature and flame height.
Thermostatic remote – This is the same as a regular remote but it has an internal thermostat that allows you to set temperature set points. This allows the unit to cycle on and off to maintain the temperature set on the remote.
- Millivolt remote
Now that we've discussed the first type of lighting system and the options for controls, here is a list of pros and cons for the millivolt/standing pilot light system to help you elevate this option:
- The pilot light can stay lit during colder months for ease of starting
- Most have options for remotes and wall switches
- Millivolt systems are lower cost and reliable
- Leaving the pilot light burning wastes gas
- Leaving the pilot light burning year-round leads to earlier pilot assembly failure
- Gas valve knobs can be hard to find and operate
Before we move on to the next category, here are a few examples of this lighting system from products on our website:
Intermittent/IPI Pilot Light – The next type of pilot lighting system for a gas fireplace is intermittent pilot or IPI. This system is similar to the millivolt system since it also involves the use of a pilot light but, this type of ignition system allows for more control over how much gas you use. This system allows the pilot light to be lit only when needed.
To use this system, use the switch on the appliance, a wall switch, or remote to activate the ignition system.
The control module will send voltage to the ignitor to automatically light the pilot. Once the pilot lights and is stable, the burner will also light.
- Burner burning
If the pilot flame is put out for any reason (i.e. air blowing it out or low gas flow) the system will shut down as a safety measure. If the system is switched off via the wall switch or remote, the pilot light and burner will shut down at the same time.
Types of switches for Intermittent/IPI Pilot Lights:
Wall switch – With this option, wire leads come from the control module within the appliance to a wall switch located in a nearby switch box.
Remote - IPI systems can be equipped with a remote even if they don't come with one as standard.
Thermostatic Remote – As with millivolt systems, this is a remote that allows you to program a temperature set point that the unit will try to achieve. Most IPI specific remotes include a thermostat as standard.
System-specific IPI remotes - Some IPI systems, such as the ProFlame or American Flame family of ignition systems, will use a specific remote that comes with the appliance as part of a package. These remotes allow expanded operation of more appliance features, such as blowers, interior lighting, flame height, and other options.
- Proflame 2 remote
Now that you are familiar with the similarities and differences between millivolt and intermittent pilot lighting systems, lets review some pros and cons of the intermittent system:
- Conserves gas by only lighting the pilot when it is needed
- More remote-controllable options such as ambient lighting, blowers, and flame height control are available
- Shuts the unit down more quickly than a millivolt system when the pilot flame is lost.
- Requires a 120 volt (standard household outlet) to operate
- Part failures are more common due to the more complex nature of the system
- More costly than millivolt systems
Now that we explored the IPI system and its pros and cons, here are a few examples of this lighting system from products on our website:
Electronic Pilotless Lighting Systems - This gas fireplace lighting system often gets lumped into the IPI category although it is entirely different in its ignition. You may assume the reference to a fireplace being electronic means this is the only one that can be connected to a remote, but that is not true. As we learned in the last two sections, millivolt and IPI can both be "remote ready". Where the electronic system is different is it uses a set of dual ignitor rods that hover over the burner. That is what makes this "electronic". As with an IPI system, if the flame signal is lost, the gas control valve will turn the system completely off. Oddly enough, some electronic systems only allow for manual on/off operation, such as with many gas fire pit tables. Though, there are systems capable of being connected to a remote.
One thing to note is that electronic systems are most common in outdoor fireplaces, outdoor gas logs sets, and outdoor fire pits. Their ignition system is more durable and stands up to the elements better than the standing pilot systems. Because they use the large main burner flame instead of a small pilot flame to prove to the control system that the unit is operating, they are also less prone to suffer from wind-related outages.
Types of switches for electronic lighting:
Wall switch – As with an IPI system, wall switches are available and the wire leads come from the control module in the appliance to a nearby switch.
Remote – Many versions of this system come with "remote ready" capabilities, though it is not unheard of to have a manual on/off switch to ignite an electronic gas fireplace.
Thermostatic remote – If you've read everything in this article up to this point... you may know what I am going to say. This is the same as a regular remote but it has an internal thermostat that allows you to adjust the temperature. Thanks for hanging in there with us this far! We appreciate you being in it for the long haul.
Here a few pros and cons of electronic lighting systems that are sure to brighten your day. (Pun intended)
- Less costly than IPI
- Stands up better to outdoor elements once lit
- If the flame signal is lost, the system turns off automatically
- Can have a hard time lighting during strong winds but can withstand wind once it is lit
- Debris inside the system can prevent the system from lighting
- Not zero maintenance must be cleaned regularly
I think you know what's coming next.... Product examples from our website! Enjoy!
No Pilot Light / Match Light Systems – Last but not least, we have the most simple lighting system in the game. The match light system is specific to a limited group of products and is becoming more rare as manufacturers continue to move toward systems that use a pilot for safety reasons. This system simply requires the user to open the gas shutoff valve for the appliance, then use a match to manually light the burner.
- Burning match
These systems are usually only used with natural gas. Because propane is heavier than air, it can pool quickly if there is a gas leak and eventually cause an explosion if it is left pooling for too long.
Due to this being the most simple system we have for gas fireplaces, there are no switches available to operate. We can move directly to the pros and cons.
- Super easy to operate
- Quick to light
- Less expensive than other lighting systems
- Usually only available with natural gas
- Some match light propane fire pit burners are available
- Becoming more rare and harder to find
Now, we can't leave you hanging without showing you some product examples from our website. Happy Shopping!
This concludes our walk through gas fireplace lighting systems. We hope this article cleared up any confusion you may have had about the differences and benefits of each lighting system. See you next time!