For decades, the furnaces used standing pilots as standard. However, the introduction of the electronic ignition system has changed things tremendously. The vast majority of modern gas furnaces use the electronic ignition system rather than a traditional standing pilot to light the burner.

While the trend has been to replace the standing pilot with the modern electronic ignition, there is a place for the standing pilot. It is essential you understand the difference between the two systems and, crucially, choose the right ignition system for your home.

The Main Difference Between Electronic Ignition And Standing Pilot

Standing Pilot

The standing pilot system consists of a small burner, gas valve, and thermocouples or thermopiles. While thermocouples and thermopiles are different components, they yield the same results – proving the flame.

The flame in the pilot ignition system heats the thermocouple or thermopile. This, in turn, produces an electrical current that is sent to the solenoid. As long as the sednoid has an electrical current, the valve stays open. Conversely, when the pilot light/flame goes out, the thermocouple stops producing heat, which stops producing the associated current. This shuts the gas valve.

Electronic Ignition

A defining characteristic of the electronic ignition system is its working mechanism. Modern electronic ignition systems turn on only when needed. As such, this ignition system will only light up and use energy when the water heater, burner, or boiler needs heat input. Electronic ignition system comes in types:

  • Hot surface ignition, and
  • Intermittent pilot system.

Commonly found in modern HVAC systems, this ignition system uses solid-state controls to ignite the flame. Moreover, an electronic ignition system that uses a flame sensor to measure the microamps to prove the flame replaces the thermopiles and thermocouples.

How Do I Choose The Right One For My Home?

#1. Consider Efficiency

The traditional pilot ignition system is wasteful. They require a constant supply of flame to keep the gas valve open. While the gas flow might be small, the gas flows continuously. Consequently, you waste a lot of gas. Typically, these systems consume anywhere from 600 to 800 BTU/hour of gas every day throughout the year. As such, you end up paying for gas you do not use.

On the other hand, the hot surface electronic ignition system uses electricity to heat up and ignite the burner. As such, energy is only used when the HVAC system needs heat. The intermittent pilot uses a gas-powered flame to light up the burner. However, this ignition system only works to initiate the heating cycle – rather than working constantly.

#2. Consider Reliability

Standing pilot ignition systems are tried and tested systems. They have a proven track record of being reliable, effective, and safe. However, they are susceptible to blocked gas lines and the pilot light blowing up. While these are easy fixes, you should still consider them.

Electronic ignition systems do not suffer the same issues as the standing pilot. However, they suffer experience other different issues. One common issue you might face is electricity outages. The system will not light up unless you have power, which is a problem if you have many power outages.

#3. Consider Cost

Pilot ignition systems have been standard parts for decades. As such, they are cheap to source parts and integrate. The repair parts of the pilot ignition systems, including thermopiles and thermocouples, are cheap and easy to source.

Electronic ignition systems are relatively more expensive to source, integrate, and repair. Moreover, the price will most likely increase with the integration of advances.


When choosing your ignition system, consider the aforementioned factors and select a system that best meets your needs and circumstance. Our team of licensed plumbers, gasfitters, and oil burner technicians can help inform you on selecting the appropriate ignition system for your home and even offer you a 1-year parts and labor warranty on all S.A.A.B. provided products.

S.A.A.B. Plumbing and Heating, INC. takes pride in providing quality plumbing and HVAC services. From on-time arrivals, super responsive, and our professionalism, S.A.A.B. Plumbing and Heating, INC. has proven time and time again that their jobs are done with quality workmanship and skill. We provide residential and commercial plumbing service, repair and installation including gas piping. Call us today at 508-960-7222 if you need a quote on a new job or for service there is always a licensed plumber on call 24/7 for emergencies.