ASK THE EXPERTS: Off-Grid Ranges

Peerless Premier Range
For off-grid homes, the most efficient natural gas or propane ranges use an electric spark to light the gas flame.

I am shopping for a new gas-fired range for my off-grid home. I know that I need one without an energy-wasting “glow bar” in the oven. Any suggestions?

David S. Martin • via email

Most gas ovens use either a pilot light—a continuously burning flame—or an electric element (aka glow bar) for lighting the gas flame. The downside of a standing pilot light is that, since it is always on, it uses a small amount of a fuel continuously, which can add up.

For an off-grid system, the electrical draw of a glow bar—which is about 500 watts—can eat up far more of your renewable energy than you’d want. Cooking a holiday dinner during the winter, for example, could easily consume 3 to 5 kilowatt-hours. For a 24-volt system, that’s up to 200 amp-hours or more for cooking alone—and that’s a lot of electricity to make up for during winter’s limited number of sun-hours. If your family bakes a lot, such an oven would be a large, year-round draw.

For that reason, many off-gridders end up using ranges with pilot lights. But for folks who also want to minimize gas use, even that is a problem. Most ranges allow users to turn off the pilot light just for the cooktop, which can then be safely lit when needed with a simple, long-handled flint striker. You can turn off the pilot lights using the adjustment for pilot flame height, often deep inside each burner’s knob shaft. (Check your range’s documentation for adjuster location and how to do this.)

But it is more difficult, often impossible, to turn off the oven’s pilot light. Unlike the cooktop burners, the oven burner needs to cycle on and off so it can regulate oven temperature—and needs to relight each on-cycle (either via a pilot light or glow bar). On my last oven, there was no way to turn off the pilot light completely.

The other alternative is to find a range, like a Peerless Premier, that uses an electric spark to light its pilot light when the oven is turned on, and turns the pilot off again when the oven is turned off. Some of these ranges also have an AA-battery-powered spark igniter, for completely cordless operation. For on-gridders, that means the oven can even be lit during utility outages.

If you go with a Premier or other spark-based range, see if you can get one from a local appliance dealer or your propane dealer. They are not as commonly available as many stove brands, but having a local source can be helpful when parts or service are needed.

Finally, be sure you specify the type of gas you have when purchasing your stove. Most off-gridders use propane, which requires different burner orifices than natural gas. If you cannot find a propane range, and the appliance store can’t handle a conversion, you may be able to make the change yourself using instructions in the range documentation. Otherwise, make arrangements to stop at a local propane dealer on your way home from the appliance store—they can change the orifices and adjust all of the burners for you.

Michael WelchHome Power senior editor

Comments (37)

Gibbo's picture

Easy, Turn knob for oven to standby, push in to light pilot. Just leave it in the standby until you are ready to use oven pilot stays lit as long as in standby position. When ready to use turn to desired temp. When done turn it back to standby if you are going to use it again, or to off to extinguish the pilot.

Gibbo's picture

I just bought a Unique 30W range for my off-grid cabin in Canada. Electric spark ignition on stove top burners provided by two 9volt batteries, Also the oven has a pilot light that is ignited from the batteries as well, and has a standby function that allows the pilot light to stay lit if you intend to use the oven regularly, if not it can be shut off and re-lit electrically when needed. The stove top burners operate independently of the oven pilot.

Michael Welch's picture
That looks like a nice range. They're pretty expensive, but I do like the continuous grate that it uses instead of small grates over each burner. Curious, how hard is it to choose whether the oven pilot stays on, or goes off between uses.
Jack Box's picture

I found this by accident but I read it thoroughly because I found it interesting.
You can pick any non glow igniter gas range you like really. here is how. If you are already living off grid or whatever you like to consider yourself as, you probably already do a lot of thinking outside the box, you probably already have a load of DIY things that you take for granted that everyone should be doing. You are probably capable of doing this is what i am getting at.
the Gas clicker that operates a gas grill will ignite a propane or Natural gas burner as that is what it is for. If you can run a detour line for the gas in a pilot lite to a place that you can install a valve that is easily accessible to you and then the return line back to the pilot lite, you can install a Click igniter that only fires the pilot. You see? when you want to turn your oven on normally you would be lighting your pilot 1st. turn the pilot gas on with your remote, push the clicker you installed Now you can turn your oven on normally. when you are done with your oven, shut it off normally, and then you shut your remote gas off to the pilot. Poof. only catch is you have to remember that or you will have your pilot running full time wasting your fuel.

the clicker to start the pilot does not even have to be powered by a Battery. Mines a push button and generates its own ignition spark from the energy I exert when I push that button. You could get one that has a battery but why? LOL
anyway, I just call this procedure. Remote pilot lighting.

Michael Welch's picture
Yes, that is true, but not recommended. Messing with the fuel supply lines in a range can be dangerous. Further, you don't need to install an igniter, you can use anything from a welder's striker to a match held on some long kitchen forceps to do the initial lighting of the pilot.
Jack Box's picture

Note that I didn't plug a brand. LOL I don't like thinking someone is telling me to buy a specific model of anything. Seems to defeat the point to me.

dcapps's picture

I, too, would be very leery of making DIY changes involving flammable substances. But that's clearly a personal thing. BUT I can report happily that after MANY backs and forths and scratching of heads on the part of many parties, I have a new Whirlpool range that does have the Direct Spark Ignition. So they exist, and the power draw is very low.

Michael Welch's picture
What model did you end up purchasing?
dcapps's picture

WFG715 -- it has the convection feature in the oven which I'm not likely to use unless it's a nice sunny day, but it's a nice stove.

Ben Root's picture
I have a DCS, 5 burner 30-in. range with electric ignition for oven too. It's a few years old now, but it's a lead.
David Martin_3's picture

I bought a Whirlpool range about a year ago. The clock stays on all the time but the draw is minimal. I believe that all Whirlpool models have the "Direct Spark Ignition (DSI)" to light the oven. It draws just a few watts when the oven is lighting but nothing when it is running. I am very happy with it.

On the website they don't talk about DSI and most sales people have no idea what it is or how it works. In the manual, under "troubleshooting" if it has DSI it will say something like this:

Gas range noises during Bake and Broil operations
The following are some normal sounds with the explanations
Click The igniters will click several times until the flame is detected. These are short clicking sounds like tapping a nail onto a piece of glass - This is normal.

The only other way to be sure it has DSI is to find the service manual that shows the replacement parts.

dcapps's picture

Hi -- so glad to hear you've found a model with DSI. Any chance you can send the model number? I had, in fact, found the statement about the sounds of the oven on line, and it gave me hope, since it sounded exactly like what you'd expect with a spark ignition. But when I went to Lowes, all the Whirlpools seemed to have glow bars. And when I download replacement parts lists, they shwo glow bars. Of course those manuals cover many different models. So I'd be very happy indeed to know what model you got!

David Martin_3's picture

My Whirlpool is a WFG540. BestBuy shows it for sale but they seem to change model numbers very frequently.

For comparison, I looked at one new Whirlpool WEG730. Then I clicked on replacement parts and eventually landed on this page:
They show a "spark module" as a replacement part down in the oven.
I sometimes got good answers by emailing questions to their website -- the chat feature almost never got accurate answers.
One other approach is to go to a small appliance shop, where the sales person and the service person are the same -- they are more apt to know what they are talking about than sales people at the big box stores.

Good luck!

dcapps's picture

Has anyone found a good gas stove model, of any kind, with as little power draw as possible? A stove repair person has told me that modern glow bar systems don't stay "on" constantly during oven use. Also that pilot light stoves are now illegal in New York State. I'd love to hear if anyone has found good options for off-grid stoves.

Michael Welch's picture
The Peerless Premier is available in a model that uses only flashlight batteries for input.
dcapps's picture

The prices on the Peerless Premier stoves are kind of outrageous, but perhaps it's because they serve a small market? What is your experience in terms of the quality of these stoves? It sounds older models are much better than newer ones -- is it because the 2 companies merged and quality is down? Also -- in some of the literature, it sounds like some of the Premiere stoves may use a glow bar -- since Lowes, for example, doesn't have any models on the showroom floor, what's a good way to make sure I'm getting the oven spark ignition model? Are you aware of the Whirlpool Direct Spark Ignition system? I find it in their technicians manuals, but I can't find any models that actually have it.

Michael Welch's picture
Yes, they're smaller than the biggie appliance manufacturers, but maybe price has to do with quality too. I've heard they are high quality ranges. Not sure what you mean by the merging you mentioned. The models that have battery-spark ignition will have neither glow bars nor AC igniters. As for the Whirlpool DSI, I did a google search and found lots of stuff. But I am not sure if it has been discontinued. Consider checking with Whirlpool directly.
dcapps's picture

Thanks -- I saw somewhere that "Peerless" and "Premiere" merged at some point. I was getting the impression that Peerless was much better quality than Premiere. Do you have direct experience with any recent models? I've been knocking on the Whirlpool website and so far haven't gotten anyone to has knowledge of the DSI, so I suspect you're right that it's been discontinued. I also read somewhere that Samsung has models that use an intermittent pilot, but was told in a chat yesterday than all of their models use glow bars for their ovens, and that the bars stay heated as long as the oven is on. New question: do you have knowledge of the possibility of changing a glow bar oven to an intermittent pilot? I've seen a lot of information on change furnaces, etc. but not stove ovens.

Michael Welch's picture
See below for Ian's message about his P.P. range. I would advise against modifying an oven ignition system. Too much risk, you're playing with gas.
dcapps's picture

I'd read Ian's post, and was optimistic, but the reviews (I never know how much credence to give online reviews) of the Premiere stoves on Amazon are, for the most part, terrible! This has made me wonder about changes at the manufacturer. It sounds like Ian's stove is several years old.

Ian Woofenden's picture

FYI, the Peerless Premier range here in my off-grid homestead has spark ignition for both cooktop (six burners) and oven. Since the inverter is not always on here, we often light the burners with a match. I've never tried lighting the oven with a match, but know that once it is started (with AC from inverter), it no longer needs AC.

This range has performed very well for many years.

Ian Woofenden
Home Power senior editor

silverstar's picture

I have to reply to the original post by Umba. I too purchased the Unique off-grid Range and had it hooked up to propane. That was two years ago and have spent just as much on service calls as on the range itself. The oven does not work - the pilot light can only be lit while down on hands and knees - and it takes a long time to light and then it does not turn off as per the knob. So much for the automatic battery igniter. Have only used the oven once. A technician is coming yet again to change the thermo coupling - tomorrow. Adjusting the burners is brutal - no one knows how to do it. Can only use one burner as a result because the smell of the propane is too much from the other three. I would never suggest a Unique Propane Range to anyone. Two years of dealing with Unique itself. The propane fridge works well - it is a direct vent unit which is great. The range however is a nightmare for those of us far from a town and service technicians - none of which have experience with this particular make of range or fridge. After two years am still cooking on my outdoor bbq which tends to freeze up at (-)25 celcius.

Umba's picture

Hi! We bought a Unique gas stove brand new for almost a grand that has never worked right even after two service calls and lots of tinkering. We were told anymore visits would cost us so being poor we had to just live with it. The problem is that the pilot light for the oven does not stay lit except at random times for short periods of time. We now have to get down on our knees with a lighter and light it. It runs through batteries with lots of clicking and spark even when it does light it has to be relit several times before it stays lit. The front burner didn't light at all brand new until they came and messed with it. Do you have an idea what is causing this? The servicemen seemed mystified and told us that no one else had a problem with theirs so they didn't know how to fix it. I guess we are just really lucky!

Michael Welch's picture

Two things come to mind. First and possibly most important, is that this stove came with a warranty, and those who sold it to you should be forced to uphold it.

Second, this might not be the stove's fault. The first place I would look at is the size of the gas pipe. It sounds to me like it might be starved for fuel.

Dusty Thomas's picture

Don't really know what the previous technicians tried but a couple of things come to mind. First the pilot light stays on because a thermistor else you'd blow up your house it could be faulty/loose wire. But this is not likely. Pressure regulator and/or a kink in your feed line might make the service unreliable. Solving complex problems is best done by eliminating what you do know until you find the root cause. Yours is a fairly simple system. A feed line, valve, pressure control, a jet, pilot control, thermistor, burner and thermostat. Figure out what works then work on what doesn't. Access to parts is whole other question.

Troubleshooting over a forum discussion would be difficult. Might be worth the cost of appliance repairman plenty in the phone book.

Keep us posted.

Carl White's picture

Hello Michael, i have considered your advice and my wife agrees with you. i thought she would find it inconvenient to light the burner each time. she says the pilot light is ok in the winter as they do keep the area a little warmer, but i should disconnect them for the warmer months and use the lighter. there are only 2 pilot lights for the top burners actually. this will mean only one pilot for the oven, and will be a good compromise i think. Thank you.

Michael Welch's picture

Excellent. Check your documentation for how to adjust the pilot light flames. In one stove, there is a slotted adjuster inside the shaft for the knob, which requires a small screwdriver with a long enough shank. In another, there is a separate little hole in the stove's porcelain shell under the knob, with a slotted adjuster just inside.

As for strikers, I like the flint-type because they do not require a flame. I've been using the same one since 1989, just requires a new lighter-type flint every year or two. Here is something similar:

Dusty Thomas's picture

i live off grid- and have propane cook top and oven combo unit- what erks me is that when the oven is in use the electrical usage jumps by 500 watts- how is that? the only thing I can figure is there's and electrical relay holding open the gas valve. so even a completely gas option is not a sure thing.

Michael Welch's picture

Dusty, your oven probably has the glow bar that this article is referring to.

Dusty Thomas's picture

respectfully- absolutely positively does not have a glow bar. it's LPG gas powered electronic spark- both top and bottom.
mind you this is not a super expensive range, but I just wanted to comment, that just because you have gas up and down- does not guarantee a low wattage device. it was as much as surprise to me as it would be to anyone and very counter intuitive- and the most usage from the oven for us comes in the evening- beginning of the dark cycle- also not a good :(

Michael Welch's picture

Hmmm, hard to imagine a 4 A 120 VAC solenoid being involved, but it sure sounds like it. What's the brand and model of the range?

Dusty Thomas's picture

it's a GE- rather low end model similar to this one - without the self cleaning feature and without the high output burner- plugs into a regular duplex wall outlet. as boring as they come. :)

David Martin_3's picture

It was exactly because of issues like this that I started the thread -- there seems to be no way to find out for sure how much power a particular range will draw. I liked one Samsung model. I called the manufacturer and they assured me that they use a spark system for oven ignition, not a glow bar. So I went to a local appliance dealer to buy it and he looked at the repair parts list and said it uses a glow bar. At GE they told me that all of their ranges use glow bars. I called some manufacturers more than once. Some of the customer service people were honest and said they did not know. Others gave answers that were contradicted by other reps at the same company. It quickly became clear that many of them have no idea and are not able to find out.

I bought a Whirlpool and it draws 3 watts when the oven is on. And if I unplug it I can still light the stove top with a match but cannot use the oven. So I am happy.

It would be great if HomePower would set up a page where users could report how many watts are used by different models that off-gridders have bought.

Carl White's picture

i bought a country house in 1986 that had a propane range with 5 pilot lights, 4 burners and the oven. i am still using that stove. the stove is used daily, we boil water for tea on it as well as cooking. a 100lb propane cylinder lasts about 6 months. if a pilot is out, or if the tank is very low, we can smell it and relight the pilot or change the tank. a small pilot or blocked orifice is usually corrected by a sharp tap with a fork. it is a very good system. hard to improve on.

Michael Welch's picture

Hi Carl. You could improve on that further by shutting off the 4 pilot flames on your cooktop, and using a striker to ignite them on demand.

David Martin_3's picture

It has been a slow process trying to gain information about the options for gas ranges that use low amounts of electricity. Websites seldom give this information and most sales people are uninformed. Even specialists at the manufacturers' sites often give incorrect information.

Most brands use glow bars, but a few do not, including Premier, Whirlpool, Samsung and LG. Some convection ovens have only a small fan that uses little power, but some appear to have "true convection" with fans that have electric elements. In addition, converting some brands to LP rather than natural gas reduces the output of burners by one-third.

I wonder if someone is collecting information about the electric needs of various brands of gas ranges. I would certainly be willing to buy the range from a firm that could answer these questions.

Michael Welch's picture

That's a good question. Energy Star does not list ranges, which is too bad, and I could find no real info on electric usage.

But, again, I sure do like that Peerless, with a model available with no glow bar and no always-on pilot lights.

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