My landlord insists on turning the pilot light out on the gas heater in the summer. Does this really save energy?

Asked by Marti Joyce
San Anselmo, CA

I live in a small studio cottage and my landlord insists on turning the pilot light out on the small wall-mounted natural gas heater in the summer. He insists it saves money and suggests I use an electric space heater during that time if I am cold. I told him it doesn't save that much energy/money and an electric space heater would use far more energy/money, and is dangerous. Who is right?


David Willson

Answered by David Willson

Sebastopol, CA

Advanced Home Performance

June 28, 2011

As annoying as this answer is: it depends.

Let's run some numbers. There's a wide range in pilot light sizes, with older furnaces being higher, but let's be conservative and say your pilot light is on the low end of the scale and burns 600 btu per hour.

  • That's 432,000 btu per month or 4.32 therms of natural gas.
  • If you're paying $1.50 per therm, then your pilot light is costing you $6.50 per month when it's on.
  • In addition, it's putting that 600 btu per hour of extra heat into your home even when it's 90 degrees outside.

Sounds like a good reason for shutting the pilot off when you don't use the wall furnace for a month?

Let's do the other side. If you use a standard small electric heater of 1500 watts and you pay an average of $.15 per kWh (kilowatt/hour), that electric heater costs $.23 per hour to run. So you'd have to use your electric heater for 29 hours a month before you'd spend as much on electricity as your pilot light would burn.

  • Do you use your electric heater for more than an hour a day, on average, during the summer?
  • If so, leave the pilot light on; if not, shut it off and use your electric heater.

Now, we've made a number of assumptions here about your situation and this assumes that the gas valve on your wall furnace actually fully shuts off the gas, with no leaks, something that ideally should be checked by a professional.

Also, at $6.50 a month just for a pilot light, perhaps you and your landlord  would consider a new gas heater (though he sounds a bit frugal). New ones no longer use a pilot light, they are safer and more efficient, and there is financial assistance to help buy and install a new one.

Better yet, get your landlord to talk to a Home Energy Professional about options for his entire home, including your studio apartment.

  • Energy Upgrade California rebates up to $4,000,
  • There's still a $500 tax incentive for energy efficiency work,
  • Marin County itself has some generous assistance plans for energy efficiency improvements,
  • There are new Energy Efficient Mortgages with amazingly low interest rates,
  • And there's still a 30% tax break for a solar system installation.

All in all, there hasn't been a better time to consider a total energy improvement package.

See if your landlord is willing to talk to a professional about this.

Tagged In: heating cooling

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