Steam boiler Sight Glass Smith Boiler Model 28A © Daniel FriedmanSteam Boiler Sight Glass
How to use the sight gauge to set the water level steam boiler

  • STEAM BOILER SIGHT GLASS - CONTENTS: how to read the steam boiler water level in the sight glass; what to do about water level surging in the sight glass; how to handle sight glass leaks or a broken steam boiler sight glass tube.
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the sight glass on steam boilers

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Steam boiler sight glass: this article describes how to find & use the sight glass (or sight gauge) on a steam heating boiler to check or set steam boiler water level.

We explain where the sight glass will be found, how to read its water level, and the relationship between the sight glass reading and the procedure for adding make-up water to the boiler.

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Guide to the Steam Boiler Sight Glass

The steam boiler sight glass or water level gauge allows the building owner or maintenance person to monitor the required water level in the steam boiler. A mark on the boiler body indicates the desired normal water level and a sight glass shows the current water level.

Steam boiler water level sight glass schemaitc (C) InspectApedia

[Click to enlarge any image]

Steam systems use varying amounts of water. Unlike a hydronic heating boiler, some of the water in the steam boiler is lost through the building's radiator steam vents at each heating cycle. Just how much water the steam boiler will lose varies widely depending on a number of factors.

Steam boiler sight glass showing required water level (C) Daniel FriedmanBut if a heating boiler loses its water without also being shut down it will certainly be damaged by the heat of the oil or gas burner (or coal or wood), and it could lead to a dangerous explosion or fire.

Watch out: The sight glass on a steam boiler is an important safety and operating device since it allows the homeowner or inspector to see at a glance when the steam boiler is low on water.

For boilers that lack an automatic water feeder, the steam boiler water level needs to be checked regularly (typically at least once a week) to assure adequate water and safe boiler operation. Low water in the boiler will lead to loss of heat or possibly an unsafe condition that can lead

Most modern steam boilers are protected against catastrophic water loss by

With a LWCO installed, if water level drops too low in the boiler the valve will shut down the burner - turn off your heat.

Our photo (left) shows the steam boiler sight glass or water level gauge on a Weil McLain Model 68 steam boiler. Our blue arrow shows the tag or mark on the boiler jacket indicating the desired water level, while the vertical blue line I drew on the sight glass shows where the water level should be.

Watch out: just as you don't want too little water in the steam boiler you also don't want to over-fill the boiler. Doing-so may prevent steam from rising to the building.

How to Read the Steam Boiler Water Level through the Sight Glass

You may also notice that when feeding water into the boiler automagically or by manual valve the water level surges in the sight glass. Just wait a moment for the surging to stop before making your water level reading. If surge is excessive you might try slightly closing the bottom inlet valve on the glass but be sure not to close it fully or you'll get no reading at all.

Steam boiler water level gauge (C) Daniel FriedmanIn fact if you are putting water into the boiler and the level in the sight glass does not move, I'd wonder if one or both of the sight glass control valves were shut or debris-clogged.

The photo above with our blue markings shows a typical mark on the steam boiler indicating the desired boiler water level. Some steam boiler sight glass gauges will sport two index marks: a low-water mark and a high-water-level mark. The boiler water level needs to be maintained between these two levels. You will see two such marks on the steam gauge with red control valve handles earlier on this page.

The photo at left has two black marks drawn right on the sight glass indicating where the building manager wants water level maintained.

On this steam boiler installed in Portland Maine, the black data tag found boiler near the top of the sight glass has these instructions:

Minimum Water Level 4" above the bottom of the gauge glass.

A reader asked us if she should read the water level in the steam boiler gauge glass using the top edge of the water or the bottom edge of the curve that's observed on water in any vertical tube. Don't worry about reading the water level or matching it to the boiler line with high precision. If you are off a half of an inch the boiler won't care.

In the Portland Maine boiler photo shown immediately above, I would ignore those black magic marker indicators somebody drew on the sight glass and follow the manufacturer's instructions: a water level anywhere 4-inches above the bottom of the sight gauge and below the top of the glass area of the gauge will be just fine.

When & How Much Water to Add to the Steam Boiler

Steam boiler sight glass

If your steam boiler has an automatic water feeder you should see the water level always close to the fill-mark and the automatic water makeup valve will normally do this job for you.

When to add water to the steam boiler

If your steam boiler has only a manual valve for adding water, until you know the system's rate of water usage, you should check the water level at least once a week during the heating season.

You'll want to add water whenever the sight glass shows that the water level has dropped to the "add" mark and you should always see some water in the sight glass.

How much water to add to the steam boiler

The sight glass on a steam boiler, combined with a mark or gauge usually placed on the sight glass or on the boiler body behind the glass, will show the proper level to which the steam boiler should be re-filled when it's low on water.

How do I add make-up water to a steam boiler

The answer is, it depends. If your boiler has an automatic water feeder it should be doing the job for you and all you need to do is check the boiler water level periodically.

If your boiler has only a manual water feed valve you'll need to follow a series of easy steps to check water level and to bring boiler water level to the proper index mark checked against the sight glass.

Details of these water feeding procedures for steam boilers are

Steam Boiler Sight Glass Leaks, Breaks, Repair

These heating boiler leak diagnostic articles may also help troubleshoot steam boiler sight glass crud or leaks:

Question: sight glass fills too high on Utica gas furnace

(Jan 28, 2015) Bob said:
Utica gas furnace 1986, Auto Feed, sight glass continues to fill beyond fill line. Why?


Leak into the boiler from a tankless coil, faulty water feed valve, clogged ports into or out of the sight glass, or the steam boiler is actually flooding:


Question: water level in the steam boiler sight glass

(Nov 29, 2015) Alan said:

Water level in steam boiler is more than 3/4 in the site glass, when I turn boiler on after few minutes calls for water green light on the automatic feeder gone on, water gets in and fills the glass stops then after few minutes automatic feeder gose on agin even though the water level is passing the site glass, Lwco float works good, and lwco is clean.

If I leave the automatic feeder on I have to drain the boiler many times a day , boiler and radiators have no leak. Never maintained the ITT McDonnell and miller UNI- MATCH on my boiler. Now I have the boiler on Manuel feed' I disconnected power to the water feeder. Any suggestion? Thanks

Reply: common sources of water feed valve trouble


Review the cleaning instructions in the instructions for the water feed valve. Chances are it is debris clogged.

Alan said:
Thanks Mod, I will review feeder's instruction. Well terminal 1 on the lwco McDonnell & Miller 67 switch is fed by neutral from the other side of the burner, terminal 2 is fed by hot power controlled by the thermostat. Water feeder ITT McDonnell and miller UNI- MATCH terminal 2 neutral strait from transformer, terminal 3 hot power from terminal 2 ON LWCO.

I cleaned the float and is moving well when the boiler is on I checked it visually when I drained the boiler using lwco handle. Burner goes off when lwco is drained which is good. Terminal 3&4 on lwco switch is left alone. Are these connections good. Any feed back guys, thanks

(mod) said:
While a control can fail and need replacement, often steam boiler LWCO and water feed problems are traced to a clogged strainer or screen in the device or sludge that has blocked a float. You've addressed the second item; check the maintenance drill to be sure we haven't missed the first one.

Below see the live link for STEAM BOILER FLOODING REPAIR


Continue reading at SIGHT GLASS REPLACEMENT or select a topic from closely-related articles below, or see our complete INDEX to RELATED ARTICLES below.

Or see STEAM BOILER FLOODING REPAIR where we explain the causes of water too high in the sight glass or in the steam boiler.

Or see SIGHT GLASS, STEAM BOILER FAQs - questions & answers about using, adjusting, cleaning, or fixing the steam boiler sight glass, originally posted at this article

Or see STEAM BOILERS GENERATORS CONTROLS, PRATT for some interesting history of steam generators & steam turbines.


Suggested citation for this web page

SIGHT GLASS, STEAM BOILER at - online encyclopedia of building & environmental inspection, testing, diagnosis, repair, & problem prevention advice.


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