My new wall heater has a gas valve that is thermostatically
compatible. The most common thermostat for this heater is
called a "microvolt" thermostat. It apparently get its
microvolts from something heated by the pilot light.
What I can't seem to get my head around, is how can such a
small amount of power manage to horse-open the rather high
flow gas valve?
The something is a thermocouple. It is actually millivolts not
microvolts. The common name for that system is "powerpile" which might
be a Honeywell trademark. We used to have that system on an old steam
boiler. It worked well and as long as the natural gas flowed there were
no worries about power outages.
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