How To Use A Water Level.

water level

In this article, you will learn how to use a water level. But first, you may have heard of this type of level but not know what it is, so here is some basic background information.

Introduction To Water levels.

Water levels are a great way to level two or more items to the same level at distances up to 100 feet. This means that it is very useful for situations like leveling the piers on a mobile home. It could also be used to level the tops of fence posts on sloping ground. Rumour has it that the water level has been used for construction for thousands of years, possibly even in ancient Egypt.

Water levels are very cheap and easy to make from everyday objects that you most likely already have in your home. If you haven’t previously read our article, “how to make a water level”, click the link to be taken to that page first.  

Why Would You Need A Water Level?

Small torpedo levels, 4ft levels and lasers are very cheap to buy from the big box stores these days, so why would you need a water level?

  • It is best for your projects where it is important to maintain a specified height over a large distance.
  • Water is particularly good for gauging the level of large structures such as mobile homes.
  • Water always finds its own level and so it is an excellent choice.
  • When the length of a traditional torpedo level will not span the distance between the points to be leveled.
  • Obstructions will block light or laser Laser beams.

This will generally be anything over 4 feet. I have found from my own experience that lasers are not that good outside in the daylight. I tried one once to get a level line on the bottom of a wall to hang a siding starter strip, but I couldn’t see the beam.

Water Leveling A Mobile Home.

Our setup contractors use water levels to level doublewide mobile homes with great accuracy over distances of up to 100 feet.  I have heard of contractors using laser devices but I have had no luck with this personally. There are just too many obstacles hanging under a mobile home to make this possible. Once you get used to using a water level it is very fast and efficient to do.

Assemble The Water Level Components.

The components needed are the following:

  • A 100ft length of clear plastic tubing  5/16″ to 3/8″ diameter.
  • One gallon bottle of water with the plastic top on.
  • Small magnet for use on mobile homes or a short furring strip.
  • Three small zip ties or duct tape.

Cut two lines in the top of the cap to form a cross, push one end of the plastic tube through the cut. Continue to push the tube into the water to the bottom of the bottle. If the water bottle has a handle the tubbing can be passed through the inside of the handle for a more secure hold.

Unwind and walk the tube out straight attaching the magnet or wooden strip to the other end. Make sure that there are no bends or kinks in the line

Run The Water Through The Tubing.

Raise the height of the water bottle around 4 feet and place it on a ledge or step. Go to the other end of the tube and gently suck on the tube to cause a vacuum siphoning the water along the tube. Once it starts to run it will continue smoothly to the other end of the tube. Lift up the far end higher than the bottle to stop the flow.

So set up the water inside the bottle to the desired height and the fluid inside the tubing will move to find its own level. As the tube fills up check that there are no air bubbles in the line. Air bubbles in the tube prevent the water from indicating the correct level.

Final Adjustments.

Connect the magnet or the wooden stake to the end of the tubing and keep the tube end above the level of the water in the jug. The magnet can be used when leveling mobile homes or trailers. Attach the magnet to the I beam and allow the tube to drop below.

Outside in daylight with the sun shining it is really easy to see the level in the tube. However, when the sun drops or you are working under a structure it becomes difficult to be precise. For this reason, we usually add a few drops of food coloring to the end of the tube for contrast.

Tip: It is not necessary to add dye to all of the water on the bottle just the far end of the tube.

Set up The Water Level On The Project.

For instance, to level the piers for a large shed that you are building.

To ensure that the corner piers are level. Set the 1st corner pier of the shed and then fill the water in the bottle to the same height. Take the open end of the level to the next corner and stack the pier until it is at the same height. In fact, where ever you locate the water bottle on the job site, the water in the other end of the tube will be at an equal height.

You could use this type of fluid level to judge the height of your deck posts to assure the finished deck surface will be plumb and level.

Best Practices.

Any time that the free end of the level is moved from one location to another or moved below the level in the bottle, cover the end of the tube with a finger or a plug. Failure to do this will allow access air into the tubing and the formation of bubbles.

After you move locations always check for bubbles. Small bubbles can be removed by holding the end of the pipe with one hand whilst flicking the tube with the fingers of the other hand.

Care and Storage Of Your Level.

When you have finished with the leveling project, empty the water from the tubing before storing it away in a dry shaded place. This is really important because leaving the water in the tube will lead to the formation of bubbles and the need to empty the water from the tubing.  The tube can be rolled up and placed inside a 5 gallon bucket to keep it in good condition ready for use.


Good luck with your project and if you have any questions please call me on 863 808 2200 or leave a message on the contact page.