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 (17)

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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