Pretty much everyone with an RV knows what a pain in the keister the piezoelectric stove igniters can be. Though they seldom wear out, they have been widely acknowledged as one of the most problematic, unreliable technologies used in RVs as well as a source of RVer frustration. They require turning a knob that makes a loud bang whenever they are used. Everybody knows when the water is being put on to boil for morning coffee because the dang igniter wakes up everyone in the RV. All too often one turn of the knob and one loud bang isn’t enough because they don’t always light the burners on the first crank of the knob. Sometimes they just don’t seem to work at all. Many people have given up on these in favor of BBQ lighters which can be similarly finicky–they too commonly use piezoelectric igniters.
While it’s not the point of this article I thought a brief description of how piezoelectric igniters work may be of some interest. In short, a hammer like mechanism strikes a quartz crystal which generates electricity. It’s that striking that causes piezoelectric range igniters to bang and BBQ lighter to click.
Because these piezoelectric igniters have made RVing cooks everywhere unhappy, including in my RVs, I set out to find a better system. I have! It took a little bit of doing but it was not a difficult modification–I just finished installing an electric spark generator, the type that’s commonly used for gas grills.
At about $10 the electric spark generator itself is not a big expense, and depending on the tools and supplies you have on hand that may be the only thing you will need to buy. Me? I needed to buy a drill bit and I opted to buy some wire and quick-connect female terminals in order to make new wires to use with the electric spark generator.
EXPLANATION OF COMPONENTS
Let me back up for a minute to explain the parts involved here. There is an igniter or spark generator. Although the terms may be interchangeable I use igniter when referring to the piezoelectric device that came with the range and spark generator when referring to the battery powered unit like the one I just installed. Although they use different methods they both do the same thing which is to create the electricity used to make the sparks that ignite the range burners.
Then there is the electrode. This is where the spark occurs that ignites the propane burners. Those I have seen are a metal rod encased in what appears to be a porcelain insulator. A small piece of the metal rod protrudes from the porcelain and the spark jumps from that rod to another surface igniting the propane in the process.
The final component is the wire (or lead) that connects the spark generator/igniter and carries the electricity to the electrode, one wire for each electrode, at least in my range. On my range and many others these wires just pop on and off by hand connecting with flat or round connectors.
Although the range has many other parts, the three I’ve listed above are those we are mainly concerned with in terms of this modification.
The electric spark generator I installed required enlarging the hole previously used for the piezoelectric igniter in the control panel of the range. That’s the piece where the knobs attach, the face plate if you will. Enlarging the hole was easy.
It’s a tight fit for the spark generator I bought in my Atwood Wedgewood Vision range, model RV 2135-BGP, but it fits. It didn’t fit 100% perfectly in my range but others with the same range seemed to have an easier time of things. For me it fits very close to perfect and you’d never know by looking that it didn’t. In order to get it into position I had to snip and bend a piece of the sheet metal inside the range which was easily accomplished in a few minutes using a snips, chisel and hammer. Other folks did not have to do this. I also had to remove a screw that was in the way and replace it after the spark generator was in position.
It may not have been necessary, but I opted to make some new wires to run from the new spark generator to the electrodes at the burners. This turned out to be a little bit time consuming because I wanted to solder the connectors rather than relying on crimp-on connectors and because the connectors I purchased were a little tight fitting for the spark generator and electrodes so I had to open them up a little bit with a small screwdriver. I might have been able to use the old wires but it would have required modifying the connectors at the igniter side because the existing connectors that fit into the old piezoelectric igniter are round and the new spark generator has spade type connectors which are flat. I’ve heard you can squash the round connectors so they will fit the spark generator’s spades or just force them on–square peg round hole–but that seemed like a risky proposition to me. What if there was an oops? A new wire might need to be purchased or fabricated. Another reason I opted not to alter the original wires was because I wanted to be able to use them with the original piezoelectric igniter if the modification didn’t work out and I reinstalled the piezoelectric igniter. Finally, I didn’t totally trust the old wires. I knew the insulation had previously cracked on one of them causing that electrode to malfunction and I’d covered the faulty lead with heat-shrink tubing to repair it.
PERFORMING THE MODIFICATIONS*
My description of procedures for this modification pertains to my range. If yours is different you’ll have to adapt them to suit. To state the obvious, perform this modification when your range is cool and otherwise safe to work upon.
If you’re range is like mine, you’re familiar with it, are handy and have the necessary tools this modification may take as little as 30 minutes or so from start to finish. Here is a quick outline of the steps.:
- Remove the range cover, grill and range top
- Remove the electrode wires and piezoelectric igniter
- Enlarge the hole in the control panel
- Snip and bend the sheet metal out of the way
- Install the electric spark generator and wires
- Test function
- Replace the range top, grill, and cover
Removing the existing piezoelectric igniter and wiring can be accomplished in two minutes if you know how. If you’ve never done it before the hardest part may be learning how to remove the range top. For my range this is easier to do than to describe. I’m including some photos and a video below in order to illustrate. The first step is to remove the grill which is accomplished by simply by lifting it off. Be careful not to lose the rubber grommets in which the legs of the grill sit as they are unreasonably pricey to replace and may be difficult to locate. The grommets fit into holes on the range top and that’s where they are supposed to stay but sometimes they stick to the legs of the grill when it is removed only to then fall off, roll across the floor and fall into one of your heating registers. Either that or they fall down the drain in the kitchen sink. It’s always one or the other. It’s not really part of this modification but as a bonus I’ll let you know that my solution to the runaway grommet problem was to crazy glue them to the range top with a tiny drop of the glue.
My range was supplied with a metal cover that folds down into place covering the grill, burners, etc. Since it seemed to me fairly useless and more of an impediment than anything else, one of the first things I did when I got the RV was to remove that cover and put it in storage. Consequently, I didn’t have to deal with the cover for this modification. If you have such a cover then take it off. Removing the cover takes a quick press on one of the hinges and it pops right off. You can see that at about 00:45 into the video immediately below. Immediately after that the video shows how to remove the range top and I have included still photos (beneath the video) to show the metal tabs and spring clips that anchor it in place. It’s very quick and easy when you know how.
After removing the grill and the cover the range top needs to come off (photos and video above). It is held in place in the back by two springy, metal what-cha-ma-call-its and in front by two metal tabs on the underside of the range top that slide under two metal tabs on the control panel, one at each side. None of these things are visible while the range top is in place so looking at the photos I’m including may help. It should also help to look at the video I linked to (above). Removing the range top requires pushing it toward the back of the range so the front of it can be lifted, then the whole top is then pulled forward and lifted slightly separating it from the what-cha-ma-call-its. OK, OK…the official designation for the what-cha-ma-call-its is “top spring clips”.
After removing the range top it would be a good time to clean up any food droppings and drippings that have fallen between the range top and the burners. Be careful in there because some of the parts may be easily damaged. A vacuum cleaner with some small attachments may be the ticket along with a small brush, sponge and paper towels.
With the range top removed the all the stuff you’ll need to get to is exposed. This includes the piezoelectric igniter, the wires, and the electrodes which on my range are permanently attached to the burners.
Remove the wires from the piezoelectric igniter. Be gentle with the wires as they are thin and the insulation may be brittle as a result of having been exposed to high temperatures. If the insulation cracks the electricity will arc to the metal of the stove and not reach the burner electrodes (should you later wish to reuse these wires instead of replacing them). They may need to be wiggled and coerced a little but they can be pulled off. The wires attach to the electrodes with tiny spade quick-connectors and can also be wiggled and tugged off if you intend to replace them, otherwise they can remain attached to the electrodes.
The next step is to remove the piezoelectric igniter. The knob simply pulls off. Next, on either side of the knob are screws that attach the piezoelectric igniter to the control panel of the range. Remove those screws and the igniter pops right out. I saved mine as a backup, spare part.
In order to fit the new spark generator into the control panel I had to modify the range in two ways. Here I want to say that if you have any uncertainty about altering the metalwork of your range it should be possible to test the electric spark generator before drilling, snipping and bending anything. Also, even if you were to modify the metal as I did, then for one reason or another decide reinstall the old piezoelectric igniter system, if your range is the same as mine it’s easy to put things back as they were and you would not see any difference when the range is reassembled.
The first bit of metalwork was to enlarge the hole in the control panel where the piezoelectric igniter attached to it (photos immediately below). In order to accommodate the spark generator the hole needed to be enlarged to 7/8″ diameter. For this I used a step drill bit. It took maybe a half minute to enlarge the hole. It took longer to clean up the metal shrapnel that resulted from the drilling.
The next bit of metal work this modification required was to bend a piece of sheet metal out of the way so the new spark generator which had a larger body than the piezoelectric igniter could be installed. A little lip of sheet metal runs around the top of the inside of the range and it got in the way of installing the spark generator. I used a metal snips, a hammer and chisel to bend it out of the way. Total time for that was maybe three minutes. See the photo.
After enlarging the hole in the control panel and bending the metal out of the way the new spark generator still wouldn’t fit because of the Phillips head screw seen in the photo. So, I removed that screw, put the spark generator in place, then returned to screw to its home. Doing those three things–enlarging the hole, bending the metal and removing the screw–allowed me to fit the spark generator into position. I should note that it isn’t a 100% perfect fit but it’s darn well close enough.
MAKING NEW WIRES
I have heard that the original wires could be repurposed to work with the new spark generator by mashing the round female connectors into a more rectangular shape in order to fit the rectangular male spade connectors on the spark generator. I did not attempt to do this because I didn’t know if that would work and I didn’t want to risk permanently ruining the wires. Instead I opted to make new wires.
For the new wires I used silicone insulated wires because of silicone’s ability to withstand the high temperatures of the range top. PTFE (Teflon) insulated wires are also rated to withstand high temperatures but when Teflon burns it creates toxic gas–admittedly not a likely scenario in the range top. Even so…
I measured the diameter of the existing electrode wires of the range and based on that I decided that 20 AWG wire was probably what had been originally used. It’s hard to tell for certain because the gauge refers to the diameter of the bare wire independent of the insulation and insulation can vary in thickness. After buying some 20 gauge I had second thoughts. Knowing that heavier gauge wire carries electricity with less voltage loss than thinner gauge wires I decided to use two equal lengths of the 20 gauge twisted together together at the ends in order to form what in effect would be a heavier 14 gauge wire. There was enough room inside the connectors I bought in order to double up on the wire and more. Suffice it to say that I think you’d be fine using 14 to 18 AWG copper wire.
After cutting wires at lengths to match the original igniter wires plus a little extra extra in case I made a mistake and had to snip a little bit off to redo, I stripped just enough insulation off the ends to fit into the spade connectors so that no bare wire was exposed at the connection, crimped the connectors closed on the wires and then soldered them into place. One thing I think may be important here is to use heat-shrink tubing from the very tips of the connectors to an inch or two beyond where they attach to the wires. If there is any bare metal of the connectors or wire exposed it may encourage arcing between the terminals on the spark generator which would prevent electricity from getting to the electrodes at the burners. Electricity takes the path of least resistance and having pressed the button on the spark generator when only one wire was attached to it I observed arcing between the other two terminals on the spark generator. Looking at the original wires I noticed they had been covered with heat-shrink in this fashion so I elected to do the same.
The spade connectors I purchased to make the new wires didn’t fit very well on either the electrodes or the spark generator–they were too tight. I used a small screwdriver to loosen up the connectors, inserting it into them in the same manner the male connector would be inserted forcing them to open a little from the size at which they were supplied. I held onto the connectors with a pliers while doing this because I didn’t want to risk stabbing myself with the screwdriver if there was a slip. The other thing I did with the connectors was to remove be plastic insulators so that I would be able to solder them. That took a little conjuring in order to devise a method by which to do so but it wasn’t difficult. It would have been better to begin with non-insulated terminals so as to eliminate this somewhat cumbersome step but my local hardware store didn’t have any of those.
Once the spark generator was in place, wires were made and connected, I inserted the required 1.5 volt AA battery into the spark generator, pressed the button…it worked, and so far it has worked flawlessly ever since.
PARTS AND TOOLS
Gas Grill Spark Generator: At first I assumed that since my range had three burners I needed a three terminal spark generator. Later I read somewhere that a fourth terminal was needed for a ground, but I also read it wasn’t as well as sometimes a ground is needed sometimes not. This uncertainty is the primary reason for the disclaimer below.* By the time I read these things I’d already installed the spark generator and it worked fine. The electrodes spark to the metal burners in my range, and because the burners are attached to the metal of the range I figured the burners/range act as the ground if one is needed. I purchased the OnlyFire three terminal gas grill spark generator. The one I got has a plasticized-chrome button-surround which I chose over an all black model for easier visibility.
14 to 18 AWG silicone insulated copper wire (if you decide to make new ignition wires); 10 feet would be way more than needed.
Optional: 14 to 18 AWG silicone insulated copper wire (if you decide to make new ignition wires); 10 feet would be way more than needed.
Optional: Female Spade Quick Connectors.
If you decide to make new ignition wires you will need two of these for each wire. After matching them by eye to the wires from the stove at the local hardware store I bought some marked .110 for 14-16 gauge wire but they were a little too tight. I stuck a small screwdriver in the open ends to pry them open a little and then they worked fine. You can try looking here for connectors but I’m not sure what you will find. BTW, I have seen two completely different kinds of connectors referred to as “spade connectors”. One looks like a fork with two tines. That’s not what you want. Those are male, anyway. You’ll only need female connectors for this project, like the one shown at left.
Step Drill Bit that includes 7/8″. I bought a Milwaukee brand because I didn’t want junk.
Soldering Iron (optional, if soldering new wires or connectors)
1.5 volt AA battery. Consider lithium batteries. Assuming batteries of equal quality, while the up-front cost per battery is greater for lithium than alkaline batteries, lithium batteries generally last much longer making them more economical in the long run. They maintain their voltage closer to the end of their life cycle than alkaline batteries in which the voltage dwindles more gradually. They are lighter than alkaline batteries and function better than alkalines in colder temperatures. Lithium batteries have a much longer shelf life–you can store them for years longer than alkaline batteries before they lose their energy. Energizer advertises a 20 year shelf life for their Ultimate Lithium batteries. With that in mind a larger quantity can be purchased at a better price making them even more economically advantageous over alkaline batteries. Sometimes though, the per-battery price can be lower in smaller quantities, an 8 pack vs. a 30 pack, for example. In such a case buying one or a number of 8 packs would be a better option than a 30 pack. Lithium’s higher voltage capacity can make some lithium batteries too powerful for some devices and may damage circuitry. I measured the Energizer Ultimate Lithium AA batteries I bought at 1.82 volts and some alkalines I had at 1.62. Read manufacturer instructions for battery recommendations for individual products. Battery University has more detailed an in depth discussions of batteries if you have the interest to pursue the info.
*DISCLAIMER: I am not an electrician and therefore not qualified to give advice about things electrical. Despite the fact that the modification I am writing about involves installing a spark generator that runs off a small 1.5 volt AA household battery most of us are acquainted with and widely regarded as safe, the spark generator increases the voltage and electrical shock may still be possible. I have performed the installation I write about in my own RV. It appears to work fine and I have not been shocked. (Your RV may be different.) That’s all I can say about the safety and efficacy of the modification I describe. I can assume no responsibility for any ill consequences resulting from your undertaking of the modifications I describe. Please consult a qualified electrician should you decide to undertake this modification.
This blog takes an enormous amount of time and energy to build and maintain. I am not paid for my efforts. If you have found something useful or entertaining please use this Amazon.com link (or those I provide within my articles) when you shop at Amazon. Doing so will cost you no more and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Your support in the form of using my Amazon.com link or making a PayPal Donation will be greatly appreciated. Additionally, using AmazonSmile a percentage of every qualifying purchase you make will be donated to the charity of your choosing at no additional cost to you.
If you would like to be notified by email when I make new posts to the blog look for the email text entry field and the FOLLOW RUSS button on the left, or with some mobile devices at the page bottom.