Rain chains are an attractive alternative to traditional downspouts, adding a layer of aesthetically pleasing functionality. These chains date back many years to Japan, where ornate, decorative chains (called “kusari-doi”) cascaded water down Japanese homes and businesses. In recent years, they’ve made their way to the United States, finding popularity as an appealing and eco-friendly way to direct roof water runoff.

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How Do Rain Chains Work?

Rain chains serve the same purpose as gutter downspouts – to escort roof runoff water away from your home. However, unlike the closed design of a downspout, rain chains feature chain links or small cups extending from the roof to the ground.

As water from the gutters spills onto the rain chain, it follows the path of least resistance down the chain. Surface tension helps the water follow its path down the chain, directing it through the links or spilling over the cups to the ground below.

Unlike downspouts, the rain chain helps slow water runoff down, ensuring it doesn’t pummel the soil below, leading to significant water erosion. However, if pooling water is a concern, it there is improper sloping around your foundation. In that case, you’ll need to use something at the bottom to collect rainwater, like a rain barrel, french drain, or water feature.

Rain Chain Designs and Materials

Rain chains come in various designs and materials, some more ornate than others. The most common options include:

  • Link style: These chains feature interlocking metal links that form a flexible chain. They come in various materials, including copper, aluminum, and galvanized steel.
  • Cup style: These models feature attractive decorative cups that collect and redirect the water. The water flows down the chain from one cup to the next. The most common materials are copper, zinc, and powder-coated metals.
  • Wood and bamboo: These chains are more sustainable than alternatives but require more maintenance to keep them in good shape.
  • Hybrid chains: These chains feature a mix of metal links and decorative wood, bamboo, or metal cups to create a dynamic and visually interesting feature.

While each design and material has its merits, some are more durable than others. Metal remains one of the most popular options, as it withstands the battering elements and time. Of course, other options are doable but require more maintenance.

To create a cohesive look with your rain chain, we recommend choosing a chain finish or material that matches or pairs well with existing trim and accents on your home.

Comparing Rain Chains and Downspouts

Rain chains are a clear winner compared to downspouts in the debate of appeal. They feature an aesthetically pleasing decorative design with a cascading visual effect, adding to your home’s overall curb appeal. While rain chains are a more attractive alternative to downspouts, they’re not always the winner in this debate.

Downspouts generally perform better than rain chains, particularly during heavy rains and aggressive storms. The contained nature of the downspout prevents excessive splashing and keeps water on a steady trek to the ground. However, the fast-flowing water pouring from downspouts can quickly erode soil in its path, while rain chains help slow down the water to minimize erosion.

On top of that, rain chains usually require less maintenance than downspouts, as they don’t collect leaves or other debris. While you typically need to remove rain chains in the winter to prevent ice buildup and heavy weight on the chain, they’re relatively easy to maintain year-round.

Both options offer solid durability, although this varies based on your chosen rain chain material.

Do Rain Chains Require Gutters?

Rain chains rely on gutters to collect water runoff from the roof and redirect it. They’re designed to hang below the gutter and catch water from them as it drains out.

While you could skip gutters with an arched roof, this usually doesn’t work well, especially in heavy rainfall. Water from the roof doesn’t collect and drain in a particular spot, so the rain chain will only decelerate the water pouring from the section of the roof over it.

To guarantee proper drainage and maximize performance from your rain chain, it’s best to use a gutter system.

Installing a Rain Chain

DIY vs. Professional Installation

Installing a rain chain is a relatively simple DIY project involving a few straightforward steps. You can by rain chain installation kits from most big box stores and online retailers. First, you’ll need to attach the setup to the gutter by hanging it in place. Next, you’ll secure it at the bottom and connect extra components as necessary to redirect water into specific planters, barrels, or containers.

Placement is crucial to get maximum performance, and that water from the roof doesn’t pool around the foundation. Since there’s more to picking the ideal spot than selecting one and hanging the chain, we recommend seeking professional assistance. They can evaluate your system to determine the best placement unique to your home.

Where to Position Your Rain Chain

Ideally, you should place your rain chain underneath a gutter end cap or downspout. This will ensure water from the gutters flows down the chain instead of somewhere else. To minimize splashing and avoid water pooling around your home, enlist the help of a rain barrel.

Hanging and Securing Your Rain Chain

Once you select the perfect spot for your rain chain, you’ll need to hang and secure it to your home. Generally, it’s best to employ ‌gutter hooks as the upper anchor point and ground stakes or containers to secure the bottom.

It’s essential to secure the chain firmly at both ends to prevent it from flailing in the wind. If it moves around too much, it could damage your home or loosen the gutter hook.

Getting Water Away From the House

While rain chains can help decelerate water pouring down from your gutters, they don’t feature a system designed to escort it away from your home like downspouts. So, to avoid water damage to your home and foundation resulting from pooling issues, you’ll need to consider employing a system to escort water away.

You could use a rain barrel, containers, or even a system that directs water from each cup to a different planter.

Rain Chains in Heavy Rain and Winter

Rain chains can do a decent job in heavy rain, although cup-style models often do better than link models. However, when it rains so heavily that a torrent of water is pouring from your gutter system, the chain may reach its capacity. This can result in splashing and overflow.

In the winter, it’s essential to remove rain chains. When melted snow and ice trickle off your roof and onto the chain, it can freeze there and add weight. This can cause issues for the chain, as the added weight may stress the upper anchor point.

Rain Chain Alternatives

While attractive, rain chains might not work for some homeowners. If that’s true for you, downspout extenders, downspout planters, or sculptural downspouts are excellent alternatives. You can choose from various materials and styles to blend the downspout into your home’s accents and trim, getting you a blend of functionality and visual appeal.

Pros and Cons of Rain Chains

While rain chains can be the perfect option for some homes due to their perks, there are a few downsides you should consider.

Creates an attractive cascading visual appeal
Facilitates rainwater harvesting
Helps minimize erosion and splashback compared to downspouts
Straightforward, DIY-friendly installation
Limited water flow capacity
May cause splashing with improper placement
More susceptible to freezing complications than downspouts
Not as durable as downspouts in extreme weather

So, Are Rain Chains Right for You?

Rain chains can be an excellent choice if you live in a mild climate that rarely experiences torrential downpours. Of course, they can work well in those areas, too, but their limitations may prove problematic during heavy rainfall, so they’re typically best suited to homes with minimal roof runoff.

Placement and drainage planning are crucial to ‌success with your new rain chain. These factors will help ensure roof water runoff flows down the chain and maximizes its performance and benefits.

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FAQs About Rain Chains

What is the point of a rain chain?

Rain chains help channel water to water features, rain barrels, and landscaped beds to keep it from pooling around your foundation. They serve a similar purpose to downspouts. However, you can get ornate styles, like cup-style rain chains or copper rain chains that will develop a beautiful patina over time to accent your home.

What is the downside to a rain chain?

Rain chains have a few drawbacks, including their limited water capacity, susceptibility to freezing issues, limited durability, and splashing issues with improper placement.

What do you do at the bottom of a rain chain?

You can place various items at the bottom of a rain chain, including planters, flower pots, and rain barrels. You can direct water from a rain chain into water features, ponds, or down a slope away from your home too.

Will a rain chain work without a gutter?

While rain chains can work without rain gutters, their performance is usually inhibited due to the lack of collected flow to the chain. They won’t be able to redirect water from other parts of the roof, and if the water arcs off the roof, they might be entirely ineffective. So, you’ll need a drainage system on your roof, too.

Do rain chains work well in heavy rain?

Rain chains can work well in heavy rain when paired with gutters and a water collection system, like a rain barrel. However, they may have splashback issues when the amount of water pouring down exceeds their capacity.

Editorial Contributors
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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Lora Novak

Senior Editor

Lora Novak meticulously proofreads and edits all commercial content for Today’s Homeowner to guarantee that it contains the most up-to-date information. Lora brings over 12 years of writing, editing, and digital marketing expertise. She’s worked on thousands of articles related to heating, air conditioning, ventilation, roofing, plumbing, lawn/garden, pest control, insurance, and other general homeownership topics.

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