Everything You Need to Know About Your Furnace Ignitor

Replacing your furnace ignitor can cost $100 to $300 for labor and parts, but before dropping hundreds, here’s what you can do to identify the problem.
Written by Kathryn Kurlychek
Reviewed by Melanie Reiff
If your furnace won’t light or it’s blowing cold air, you may have a problem with your furnace ignitor. Parts and labor can cost up to $300, but there are some steps to take before you call a technician for a repair. 
Furnace ignitors typically need replacing after seven years or so, but they may give out sooner as a result of electrical or mechanical issues. If you’re noticing unusual behavior with your furnace, a faulty ignitor could be to blame—but before calling up a professional, there are measures you can take to assure that the ignitor is the culprit. 
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What is a furnace ignitor?

Your furnace ignitor heats the air in your furnace—without it, your furnace won’t blow hot air. When your furnace kicks on, the furnace ignitor is responsible for creating the spark that heats the air. 
The thermostat in your home communicates directly with your furnace to circulate heat throughout your entire house. To start that process, your furnace’s inducer motor switches on and activates a pressure switch, which then opens the furnace’s gas valve to allow gas flow. 
Once the pressure switch opens the gas valve, the furnace ignitor begins to heat up—this reaction creates the spark that ultimately ignites your furnace. 
Most ignitors last about seven years, but electrical or mechanical issues could impact this process and cause your furnace ignitor to give out before its time. 

Symptoms of a faulty furnace ignitor

So you think your furnace ignitor might be going bad—but you’re not sure, exactly, how to tell. Here are some signs to look out for:
  • Your furnace is blowing cold air
  • Your furnace won’t turn on
  • Your furnace suddenly stops or is starting and stopping erratically
Unusual behaviors like these may indicate problems with your furnace ignitor. However, they might also be signs of different issues in your home or a problem with a separate component in your furnace. Before jumping to any conclusions about your furnace ignitor, it’s important to take time to ensure other systems in your home are working as they should be.

Determining if the problem is your furnace ignitor 

Replacing a furnace ignitor can run you a bill of several hundred dollars—so before drawing any costly conclusions, you’ll want to make sure the issue isn’t indicative of a larger electrical problem or clogged filter. Before heading straight to the furnace, investigate these places first:
  • Check other appliances and outlets in your home to ensure they’re receiving power and working properly. If you notice other appliances not working correctly, the problem may lie with your home’s power supply.
  • Check your thermostat to make sure the setting is on “heat” (not “cool”) and also to make sure the thermostat is set at a high enough temperature that the furnace knows to blow warm air. 
  • Check your furnace’s air filter to confirm it’s not dirty or clogged, which could prevent adequate airflow. 

Other problems to consider

If you’ve double-checked other outlets and are sure the filter isn’t clogged, you can check your furnace’s drain pan (located directly above or below your furnace). The drain pan collects condensation run-off from your furnace and drains it, but drainage issues—caused by the pan, float switch, or pump—could result in your furnace not turning on properly. 
Also, make sure the gas supply in your house is sufficient. Many furnaces use gas or propane to ignite the spark that ultimately heats your air—and not having an adequate supply could be the reason your furnace isn’t working.
If your furnace is stopping suddenly, or starting and stopping erratically, check the breaker box to ensure the breaker for your furnace is switched on. If your furnace repeatedly trips the breaker, the culprit could be your ignitor.
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What to do about a faulty furnace ignitor

Furnace ignitors can wear out with age, or experience other issues, including problems with the flame sensor or electrical short-circuiting
Sometimes, it’s an easy fix—cleaning grease build-up off your furnace ignitor, for example, might be all it takes to get your ignitor back in working condition. But bigger problems require more professional fixes. Addressing a faulty furnace ignitor on your own can be dangerous, especially if you lack prior experience. 

How to check your furnace ignitor

If you have experience working with furnaces and are up to the task, you can check your furnace ignitor yourself before spending money on costly maintenance or repairs. 
Before you start, make sure your furnace is off and unplugged and that the gas valve is also shut off. If your furnace is hot, let it cool to room temperature before attempting to access the ignitor. When you’re ready, follow these steps: 
  • Remove the service panel on the side of your furnace (you may need a small screwdriver to do so). 
  • Locate the ignitor, which typically looks like a flat metal piece with a white ceramic base. It may also have two small metal prongs. 
  • If you can spot visible damage like greasy build-up or wear and tear, you’ll know it’s time to replace the ignitor.
  • If there’s a mechanical problem, you won’t recognize an issue at first glance—but you can reconnect your furnace to the power supply to observe how your ignitor is working. 
  • You can observe the process of your furnace starting (from the inducer motor kicking on to the furnace ignitor glowing orange as it heats up). If you notice problems with the inducer motor, pressure switch, or ignitor itself, it’s best to proceed with caution—or call a professional

How much does repairing a furnace ignitor cost? 

A new furnace ignitor isn’t a costly part in itself. You can find them at home improvement and hardware stores for around $25 to $50. But unless you have extensive experience fixing furnaces, replacing the ignitor isn’t a DIY project—meaning you’ll have to call a professional to perform the repair for you—and that’s where it gets expensive. 
Most HVAC technician service fees cost about $75 an hour, and replacing the furnace ignitor will take at least that long—all in all, the average cost of parts and labor to repair a furnace ignitor range from $100 to $300.

Does home insurance cover furnaces?

Yes, generally speaking,
homeowners insurance
will cover the costs of replacing and repairing your furnace. Standard homeowners policies cover damage to internal home systems—including your HVAC system—if you experience accidental issues like cracking, burning, bulging, or tearing. 
However, mechanical problems with your ignitor may not be covered. Most policies won’t reimburse you for replacing or repairing a furnace that’s broken down from old age, a lack of maintenance, or mechanical issues.  

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You may notice your furnace only blowing cool air, stopping suddenly, or not turning on at all. If your furnace ignitor is faulty, your furnace may also start and stop erratically. If you notice this happens more than twice, turn off the breaker to your furnace and call a technician for assistance.
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