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Gas Oven 'Glowbar' Igniters
How they work, how to replace them

Most gas oven systems today are ‘electronic ignition’, and use a ‘glowbar’ type ignitor electrically in series with an oven valve.

(Update 2010: most of the newer ovens are using a spark ignition system, which has been [cough] less than reliable. That system is completely different, and uses a round, white ceramic 'spark plug' instead of one of these glowbar ignitors)

Electrical current passing through the ignitor operates a small heater that ‘warps’ an internal piece of bimetal to open the gas valve. As long as the burner flame continues to heat the ignitor, its electrical resistance remains low enough to keep the valve turned on. If, for any reason, the flame is extinguished, the igniter's resistance increases and the valve turns off the gas to the burner.

While the valves are very reliable, the igniters have become the most common parts failure on these systems. Which is to be expected, I guess; they’re doing their job in a gas flame!

Igniters come in two basic types, ‘flat’ and ‘round’, seen below, and they can’t be interchanged.

The 'Flat Style', # IGN5
Current Listings on Ebay

A Round One, # AR403
Current Listings on Ebay

Each type operates at a particular amperage level, and is matched to the type gas valve it operates. The stainless steel ‘cages’ that protect them usually correspond to their actual shape, which helps you figure out which one yours uses. And to make it even easier, there’s pretty much only One round one that fits them all. Flat ones vary only in the length of the ceramic block to which they’re mounted. Electrically they’re nearly all the same.

While it’s possible to diagnose one of these systems using an ammeter, it usually isn’t necessary. Since I try to keep life simple, and since these igniters have really dropped in price the last few years, it’s pretty easy to figure out what’s up with your cold oven.

If your oven doesn’t light, but you see the ignitor glowing, it will most likely be glowing a very dull red and not drawing enough current to operate the valve. Or, in some cases, it will operate the valve very slightly and you’ll smell some gas odor. Neither case is desirable or acceptable!

Note: The bake ignitor is normally hidden under the oven floor, which is easily pulled up and removed. There's usually a steel 'flame spreader' on top of the burner, which is also removed to access the bake ignitor. In ovens with an exposed broil ignitor (up on the oven ceiling), it's possible to confuse the two and replace the wrong one.

Watch a clock or stopwatch. If it takes more than 2 minutes to light, you’ll want to replace the ignitor; it’s the culprit in 90% of these. And this is the best way for you to diagnose your ignition system! In most cases, that’s all there is to it. You don’t even have to worry about wire polarity on the new ignitor – they can be wired either way. Just be sure it’s wired like the old one, and not connected to 120V directly, or it will burn out. Ignitor and valve must be in series with each other, or you’ll burn out one or both, fast!

If you’ve replaced the ignitor and it glows but the oven still doesn’t light, it’s time for a new valve. They’re pricier, but I usually recommend doing this once in a range’s life if necessary. Still much cheaper than a new range.

If there’s no ‘glow’ at all, take a close look at the ignitor, and you’ll often see a crack, or it may even be obvious that it’s broken apart. You can use an ohmmeter to test for continuity if no cracks are visible.

Just be sure to power the range down. In some models, one side of the oven valve is always ‘hot’ with respect to ground, like some electric range bake element terminals.

New igniters ship with two ceramic wire nuts, and you simply connect the new part’s wires to the originals, using the original plug if yours has one. There are no polarity concerns; the two wires connect either way.

A bit of hi-temp. grease on the mounting screws will be a big help if you have to repeat this job in the future. These screws are subject to very high heating, and can ‘freeze’ into their threads so tightly you’d like to blast to get them out sometimes!

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