It’s a beautiful day outside, you step out into the backyard with a smile on your face and enthusiastically approach your barbecue. After getting the fuel flowing, you hold down the knob, hit the ignitor, and… nothing. No click. No ignition on your burners. You press again, and again, keeping a shard of hope still panging inside you, but to no luck. You can grab the matches or barbecue lighter for a temporary fix if those steaks are ready to go, but be prepared for some troubleshooting after your meal (or the next time you grill for those that just want to relax after a big, juicy steak).
Battery vs. Piezo
While you’re enjoying your meal, I’ll cover some general information about the ignition system of a gas barbecue so that you can isolate the various components for troubleshooting later. Firstly, it might sound obvious, but the ignitor is where an electrical spark is created that ignites the mixture of air and gas flowing through the burner of the barbecue. To get from the ignitor itself to the burner, the electrical charge must first travel through a wire to the electrode and then to a gas collector box, where the spark is mingled with captured gas to aid in ignition.
There are two primary kinds of ignitors in barbecues: battery-powered and piezo ignitors. If your ignitor has a battery then it’s battery-powered, and if it doesn’t then it’s a piezo ignitor. Easy enough to identify.
- A battery-powered ignitor uses a battery to create an electrical spark, no interesting physics tidbits there unfortunately. Other than the initial medium of electrical generation, as we saw before, the process of actually igniting the burners is relatively identical and when troubleshooting we will follow largely the same process for both ignition systems.
- A piezoelectric ignitor contains a material that possesses a natural electrical charge, typically a crystal. When mechanical stress or pressure (like pushing the button of your barbecue ignitor) is applied to that material, an electrical spark is generated, this is called piezoelectricity and it is also produced within the bones of our bodies when we apply mechanical stress or excitation to our bodies. With that being said, I think you would have to engage in quite a lot of, and quite a sudden amount of, mechanical excitation to ignite your barbecue with your bones, so we’ll file that one under “fun facts” for now.
If you have a battery-powered ignitor, the first thing to do is change the battery. The battery will either be inside the push-button itself, where all you’ll have to do is unscrew the cap of the button and swap it out; or, if the push-button is separate from the ignition module, the battery will be inside the ignition module, which can require some minor disassembly of the barbecue. If, after removing the old battery, you notice corrosion on the battery or inside its compartment on the contacts, you can use a cloth or swab and a little white vinegar to clean it off. After, use a separate cloth to clean off the vinegar residue and any remaining corrosion.
If after swapping the battery you are still having no luck getting that “click” you’re used to hearing, the next thing to check are the electrodes. To get a look at the electrodes, first remove the grill grates and then the flavour bars from the barbecue. The electrodes will be visible either at the front, above the burner, or in some cases, horizontal to the barbecue burner in the collector box. Because of their location, the electrodes are evidently susceptible to grease and cooking detritus. If they accumulate too much gunk, this can be enough to stop them from functioning. To clean off the electrodes, it is as simple as wiping them down carefully with rubbing alcohol or white vinegar on a cloth. They do not need to be removed fully to be cleaned.
Still no click? There’s one more place to check, and this involves following the chain of command. So, starting at the ignitor or ignitor button, to the module (if applicable), to the electrode, follow those wires. If any are loose or look like they are damaged, swap them out. Since we’ve already taken some pieces out of the barbecue in diagnosing the earlier components, everything should be visible. Luckily, barbecue ignitors are made to be easy to remove and install, so if any wires are damaged it is quite easy to replace them. Additionally, if you’re not getting any spark, the issue could be humidity or a wet barbecue. The fix for this is as simple as drying the wet components or opening a beer and waiting it out.
Now for the unfun and most confusing method. If you’re getting a spark but no ignition; check to see if the electrodes are misaligned, if they aren’t positioned above, or beside the burner properly, they will not ignite with the fuel. A spark without ignition can also mean there is a problem within the burners. Occasionally, insects can crawl inside the venturi tube of the burners and block the flow of fuel into the burner tube itself. We recommend only using a venturi tube cleaner to clean these out. The burners are quite easy to remove and reinstall.
If you have a piezo ignitor and don’t hear a click, you could ensure the ignitor and the wires attached are all connected and not damaged. If they are, the problem could be failure of the complete ignition module. There is no battery that can be swapped out and the entire ignitor may need replacing.
If none of our troubleshooting tips have done the trick, keep the barbecue lighter handy for today, and maybe tomorrow, and swing by one of our stores or talk to one of our barbecue experts online and we can help you get that ignitor going again. If you have any additional questions about ignitors or the process to swap them out, please press that little chat button in the bottom right-hand corner and our barbecue experts will be in contact with you. Even better, you can call or swing by one of our five stores across Canada by clicking here. We have two Calgary and three in the GTA and our barbecue experts are happy to get what you need to start grilling.