Can A Level Go Bad?


One tool that everyone should have in their toolbox is a level. The most well known level is called a spirit level or a bubble level. This amazing tool is responsible for making sure when you hang up a picture, a shelf, or build cabinets that they are nice and level and not tilted. Hence, why they call it a level.

Maybe you have used a level on your most recent project of hanging up pictures, only to take a step back and look at the wall and notice the picture is crooked. But how? I used a level and it said it was straight. Can a level go bad? Yes, a level can go bad. Over time or after a hard drop, a level can get out of calibration and could give a false reading. Luckily, there are a few tests to find out if you level is incorrect.

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Types of Levels

A level is a tool that ensures that the surface is flat and not slanted or crooked. There are many types of levels and each type is used in different situations in order to get the right read of whether a surface is level or not.

Different types of levels include:

  • Spirit or Bubble Level
  • Laser Level
  • Phone App Level
  • Optical Level
  • Water Level

Spirit or Bubble Level

This is the most basic and common level used at home and many probably have this in their own toolbox. A spirit and bubble level contains some liquid and a bubble on the tool.

When the bubble is within the two lines on the level it means that the surface is indeed flat. If the bubble is on one or the other side of the lines it means the surface is not flat and is tilted. Depending on the level it could have only a horizontal bubble or both a horizontal and a vertical bubble.

Laser Level

This is exactly what you may be thinking in your head. It is a more sophisticated and expensive level because this tool projects a laser light over the surface so you can see where you need to align the work to ensure its nice and level.

More expensive than your typical bubble level but super fast and easy to use. Laser levels do not go bad either, since it‘s the technology that gives the reading and you are not depending on liquid and bubbles that may go bad over time or become uncalibrated during a drop.

Phone App Level

Everyone has a cell phone now a days. So believe it or not there are apps on your phone that you can download that make your phone become its very own level.

Bubble Level for iPhone is a great app and is very reliable with its accuracy. Anyone can download the app on their phone and then follow the directions on how to use it.

Optical Levels

An optical level looks like binoculars on a tripod. This kind of level is used on construction sites or during a surveyors job. If you need to find out if a long distance is level this is when you would need to use an optical level. This helps in determining the levelness of things that are long distances away, like at a construction site.

Your typical DIYer will not need to have an optical level around, but it is good to know that there are indeed more that just your basic levels in the industry.

Water Level

Another level that wouldn’t typically be used in a normal DIY circumstance is a water level. A water level uses the surface of water to establish a horizontal plane of reference. This helps with transferring levels from one place to another.

How To Check Your Levels Accuracy

Has it been a long times since you have used your level? Or maybe you dropped it on the ground pretty hard. This might lead you to think your level may be out of wack and maybe it is. Luckily, there are a few steps that you can take to double check the accuracy of your bubble or spirit level.

Steps to check your levels accuracy:

  1. Place your level on a flat surface
  2. Make 2 marks. One on each side of the level and one along the side of the level, in the middle where the vial is.
  3. Look at the vial and take note of where the bubble is within it.
  4. Move the level 180 degrees end to end and align the level with your marks.
  5. Take an additional reading. If accurate, the bubble will be in the same exact position for both reading. If the bubble is in a different spot within the vial, then your level is making inaccurate readings.

Keep in mind, the steps above are strictly for spirit and bubble levels. Not, laser, optical, phone apps or water levels.

How To Fix An Inaccurate Level

If your bubble level is indeed giving you a wrong reading there is a way to fix it.

Steps to fix your levels accuracy:

  1. Place your level on a surface that you are 100% certain is level.
  2. Wait 10-15 seconds to let the level stabilize.
  3. Note where the bubble rests.
  4. Depending on your level, you will either adjust the screw on the end of the level by the vial until the bubble is in the middle, or you will take the cover off the vial and use a piece of paper to snug into it until the bubble is centered again.
  5. Flip your level from side to side to verify that the level is calibrated correctly and it is giving the correct reading now.

Final Thoughts

A level is a must have tool for anyone doing home projects, so it is vital that our levels are giving us a correct reading. Levels can indeed go bad, so it is important to know if it has and how to fix it. Luckily, with the technology available to use today, if you find out your level is bad and you can’t fix it, you can easily get your phone and download an app that will work just as well as your normal spirit level.

Related Questions

Can a level be wrong? Yes, over time and use your level could get un-calibrated and need to be re-calibrated correctly.

Can you use a level on its side? Yes, a level works just as well on its side as it does when it is flat.

How accurate are bubble levels? Bubble levels are extremely accurate as long as they are calibrated correctly.

What are the outer lines for?  Level vials have two sets of lines. When the bubble is centered between the inside pair, it indicates level. But when it touches one of the outer lines, it means the level is pitched at a 2-percent grade (about ¼ inch per foot of run), the slope required for waste lines, sidewalks, and rain gutters to drain properly.

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