Water levels have been used for thousands of years. Egyptians used water levels to build the pyramids, and Romans used them to construct aqueducts. A water level is easy and inexpensive to make, making it perfect for leveling a deck or shed foundation and more accurate than a carpenter’s level over long spans.

You can use a water level around corners that are out of line of sight, something a laser or builder’s level can’t do. This special capability expands the usefulness of a water level for home projects where straight lines span multiple rooms and traverse changed elevations.

How a Water Level Works

A water level works on the principle that a liquid always seeks its correct level. It doesn’t matter if the body of water is a bathtub or a lake. As long as there are no outside influences at work (such as the wind, tides, or moving objects in the water), the water at one end of the body of water is the same height as the water at the other end.

A water level substitutes a plastic tube for the body of water. One end of the tube is fixed at a reference height while you move the other end to different locations. As long as the water stabilizes at the same height in both legs of the tubing, you know the two ends share the same elevation.

Materials You Need

Constructing a homemade water level requires only a few materials sourced from hardware stores:

  • Clear plastic tubing, ⅜ inches in inner diameter
  • Two wood stakes or dowels
  • A container
  • Water
  • A small funnel (optional)
  • Red food coloring (optional)

The tubing should be flexible enough to manipulate around corners but stiff enough to hold its shape when filled with water. Polyethylene and flexible PVC tubing work well.

Image Credit: Canva

Cut a length of tubing suitable for your application — 25 to 30 feet is reasonable for most home projects. Clear tubing lets you see the water level inside.

You can use wood paint stir sticks, dowels, and other sturdy materials as stakes as long as you can insert them snugly into one end of the tubing to prevent leaks. Avoid sharp edges that could puncture the tubing.

Funnels aid in filling the tubing with water. Food coloring adds visual contrast to see the water level better but is not essential.

Constructing the Water Level

Follow these steps to construct your homemade water level:

  1. Insert one stake or dowel into one end of the tubing so no water leaks out.
  2. Using a funnel, put about 2 inches of colored water in the tube. Check for air bubbles. (Food coloring helps monitor the water level inside the tubing.)
  3. Seal the open end closed with your thumb so no water escapes.
  4. Position the fixed stake where you want to set the reference height. This point may be on top of one of the blocks you intend to level.
  5. Holding the tube sealed, maneuver the free end to a new location and mark the water level on a stake or the foundation block directly.
  6. If the mark aligns with the water level, the new location is at the same elevation. If they differ, adjust the block height accordingly.
  7. Leapfrog the free end around, repeating Steps 5 and 6 until all locations are level. Add water if needed.

It is critical not to lose water out of the ends of the tubing. If you do, you must start over. For larger projects, you can create a water reservoir from a 1-gallon plastic jug to reduce refills. Drill a hole matched to the tubing size near the base of the jug so water can flow into the line.

Why You Would Use a Homemade Water Level

DIYers use homemade water levels for small home improvement tasks like:

  • Leveling foundation blocks or piers
  • Ensuring a deck surface or floor is flat and even
  • Aligning fixtures or tiles across multiple walls
  • Extending a straight line around corners or between rooms
  • Transferring elevations from one part of a project to another
  • Grading and leveling yards or landscaping

For smaller jobs, water levels compete directly against line levels, laser levels, and dumpy levels. Their advantages are low cost, simple materials, and the flexibility to work around obstructions. However, for larger site grading projects over longer distances, a surveyor’s level or commercial laser system offers better precision and less effort to operate.

So, Is a Homemade Water Level the Right Choice?

Water levels excel at small to medium jobs where flexibility, cost savings, and simplicity are priorities — such as leveling a DIY foundation. They match the accuracy of more expensive options over shorter distances.

However, water levels require careful handling to prevent losing water. They also don’t provide the precision and expanded capabilities of laser levels and other professional-grade equipment. Weigh your budget and skills to determine if this basic but versatile option suits your project.

FAQs About Homemade Water Levels

What diameter tubing should I use?

With homemade water levels, use tubing with a 3/8-inch inner diameter for a balance of capacity, flexibility, and availability. You can also use any size between 1/4 inch and 1/2 inch.

What length of tubing is best?

The length of tubing that best suits a water level for most projects is between 25 and 30 feet. That’s a good length for leveling tasks for many foundations and decks. Longer sizes, up to 100 feet, provide extended range but are trickier to fill and manage.

Should I use dyes or food coloring in the water?

Using coloring in homemade water levels improves the visibility of the water inside the tubing. Red, blue, or green liquid gives the best contrast. Water by itself, with no coloring, also works.

Can I level around corners with a water level?

One advantage of water levels over laser levels is the ability to bend the tubing around corners and obstructions most grade lasers can’t accommodate.

How accurate are homemade water levels?

Depending on construction, homemade water levels match traditional spirit levels up to about 30 feet distance. However, they lack the precision of laser levels or commercial survey equipment over longer distances.

Why does my water level lose accuracy?

Accuracy failures stem from air bubbles, leaks, losing water, expansion with heat, or disturbing the tube. Refill carefully to restore performance. Consider a water reservoir jug for large projects.

Editorial Contributors
avatar for Jonathon Jachura

Jonathon Jachura


Jonathon Jachura is a two-time homeowner with hands-on experience with HVAC, gutters, plumbing, lawn care, pest control, and other aspects of owning a home. He is passionate about home maintenance and finding the best services. His main goal is to educate others with crisp, concise descriptions that any homeowner can use. Jon uses his strong technical background to create engaging, easy-to-read, and informative guides. He does most of his home and lawn projects himself but hires professional companies for the “big things.” He knows what goes into finding the best service providers and contractors. Jon studied mechanical engineering at Purdue University in Indiana and worked in the HVAC industry for 12 years. Between his various home improvement projects, he enjoys the outdoors, a good cup of coffee, and spending time with his family.

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photo of Sabrina Lopez

Sabrina Lopez


Sabrina Lopez is a senior editor for Today’s Homeowner with over 7 years of writing and editing experience in digital media. She has reviewed content across categories that matter to homeowners, including HVAC services, home renovations, lawn and garden care, products for the home, and insurance services. When she’s not reviewing articles to make sure they are helpful, accessible, and engaging for homeowners like herself, Sabrina enjoys spending time with her family and their two parrots.

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