Propane Heater Troubleshooting Guide

When your propane heater’s pilot light doesn’t stay lit, it’s most likely because of a dirty thermocouple, a dirty pilot, and a clogged orifice. The heater will also fail to work, in case it is placed in a windy area – a wind barrier will get the problem solved.

Let’s dive deeper into the most common reasons why your propane heater is not working and why the pilot light is not staying lit. Below, you will also find detailed instructions on how to reset a propane heater after you had run out of gas. 

Related: Why Gas Furnace Is Overheating

Top Reasons Why Your Propane Heater Isn’t Working

The Thermocouple Is Not Adjusted

Basically, a thermocouple is a sensor that detects whether or not the pilot light is lit. If there is a flame, the thermocouple will keep the gas valve open to ensure that the flame stays lit.

This element is also a safety device as it will shut the gas valve if the pilot light goes out. This helps ensure that there is no gas leak.

How it fails:

if the thermocouple is too far from the pilot light, it won’t get hot enough. As a result, the gas valve won’t stay open and your propane heater won’t be working.

Tip: the sensor on the element has to be 2/3 into the flame.

How to fix:

you would have to adjust the position of the thermocouple. Sometimes, all you would have to do is grasp the element and slide it in its clip.

You can also try gently pushing the thermocouple towards the pilot flame. 

The Pilot Tube Is Blocked

propane from the gas pipe gets to the heater’s pilot light through a small pilot tube. This gas flow feeds the burner and makes sure that the flame stays lit.

How it fails:

if the flames that you see in the heater are orange or yellow, then the pilot tube needs to be cleaned. A ‘good’ flame has to have a blueish color.

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Related: Why Does My Gas Fireplace Keep Shutting Off?

*Propane fireplace flame shown

How to fix:

All you would have to do is switch the gas off and poke a pin through the pilot. This will help get rid of the carbon particles. 

Electric Spark Issues

Your propane heater might have an electronic ignition system. In such a case, the pilot light will come on only when an electric spark activates it.

How it fails:

Usually, if you look in the burner chamber, you should be able to see the spark. But if you don’t – then there is a problem with the electrical connection to the igniter.

How to fix:

Consult the owner’s manual. Find the electrical diagram of the heater and make sure that all the necessary connections are in place.

Warning! Leave this job to a professional, if you don’t feel comfortable working with wires. 

There Is No Gas

the propane heater won’t be able to function, if there is no fuel. You would have to make sure that there is nothing wrong with the gas line or that there is enough propane in the tank.

How it fails:

a 20-pound propane tank will, on average, last for 10 hours. This will keep you warm for roughly 2-3 evenings; after that, you would have to refill the tank or replace it with a new one. 

How to fix:

ideally, you would want to schedule a propane refill delivery. It is incredibly important to make sure that your tank gets filled to not more than 80% as propane can expand with the change of temperature.

Top Reasons Why the Pilot Light Doesn’t Stay Lit

The Propane Heater Is Set in the Wrong Place

If you have an outdoor propane heater, you have to make sure that the unit is protected from the wind. Otherwise, the pilot light simply won’t be able to stay lit.

Either relocate the heater or get a wind barrier.

The Pilot Is Dirty

a pilot light is a small flame that serves as an ignition source (it lights the gas coming out of the pilot tube).

How it fails:

The pilot light can get dirty and clogged with carbon residue and soot. A dirty pilot won’t be able to stay lit, so you would have to clean the thing at least once a year (more often, if necessary).

How to fix:

The first thing you would have to do is turn the gas off and wait for at least 5 minutes.

  • Removing a pilot light from a propane heater should be relatively easy. Locate the component, take off the bracket that’s holding the pilot and use a wrench to loosen the nuts.
  • Use a brush to scrub off any buildup. You can try using a wire brush, but make sure not to damage the element.
  • Use an air compressor or canned air to blow inside the pilot. This will help remove any debris that you weren’t able to get rid of with a brush. 
  • Put the pilot light back in the propane heater.

Tip: in a lot of models, you can remove the pilot light and the thermocouple simultaneously. This will come in handy if you are planning on cleaning both of the components.

The Thermocouple Is Dirty

One part of the thermocouple is sitting directly in the pilot light’s flame, while the other is responsible for sending electricity to the gas valve.

How it fails:

The thermocouple is a safety device that is going to shut the gas valve, if there is no pilot light. A dirty or faulty element can make the pilot light go out as it will prevent the gas from getting to the pilot light in the first place.

How to fix:

Cut off the gas supply to the heater and wait for at least 5 minutes before proceeding with the next steps.

  • Locate the thermocouple and use a screwdriver to loosen the screws.
  • Carefully remove the element from the pilot assembly.
  • You can use the rough side of a sponge or steel wool to gently remove any dirt and buildup from the thermocouple.
  • To go the extra mile, you can clean the threads of the element’s attachment screw with a pencil eraser.
  • Put the thermocouple back in the pilot assembly.

Warning! Never use any cleaning products on the thermocouple or pilot light as the chemicals can be flammable

The Heater’s Orifice Is Dirty

An orifice is a small detail that looks like a tiny brass cup. It dispenses fuel into the burner through a high-precision hole.

It helps ensure that the right amount of propane is mixed with the right amount of air to create the perfect flame for your propane heater. 

How it fails:

Even this part of the heater can get clogged with dirt. Of course, there will be no flame in the unit, if the orifice is clogged.

How to fix:

shut the gas off and leave the unit for a few minutes.

  • Remove the burner shield by unscrewing the screws.
  • Find the control knob and pull it straight off.
  • There might be a panel right behind the knob. If there is one, you would have to remove it.
  • Now that you can see the gas valve assembly, remove the bottom pilot light cover.
  • Remove the screw that’s holding the pilot assembly and pull the gas line out of the housing.
  • Remove the orifice from the mounting bracket.
  • Soak the part in a mixture of water and vinegar.
  • Use an air hose with a high-pressure nozzle to blow out the orifice.
  • Make sure that the component is clean and dry and put it back into the unit.

How to Reset a Propane Heater After You Run Out of Gas

  1. Open the access door on the heater and turn the control to the ‘off’ position.
  2. Close the empty tank by turning the handle counterclockwise. Use a wrench to unscrew the hose from the outlet.
  3. Replace the used tank. Screw the hose back on the fresh tank.
  4. To open the tank, turn the valve clockwise.
  5. Locate the control knob inside the heater, turn it to ‘pilot’, and push it in. Light the pilot light.
  6. After the pilot lights, continue holding the knob for around 30 seconds. This will give the thermocouple enough time to heat up.
  7. Make sure that the pilot light stays lit after you stop holding the knob.
  8. Turn the control to the ‘on’ position and close the access door.