Home Gutters What is a Rain Chain? An In-Depth Overview

What is a Rain Chain? An In-Depth Overview

In the world of functional outdoor decor, you may have heard of something called a rain chain. But what is a rain chain, and what does a rain chain do? 

A rain chain’s purpose is similar to that of a traditional downspout. It guides rainwater from the roof to the ground, away from the home’s foundation and siding, to avert water damage. 

However, many homeowners discover that rain chains beautify their outdoors and serve as a decorative element. 

We’ll provide you with an in-depth look at rain chains while exploring their origins, benefits, and the many ways they can enhance the exterior of your home.

What is a Rain Chain?

Rain chains originated in Japan hundreds of years ago and are still seen adorning homes and gardens today, serving as a decorative alternative to the traditional downspout. 

Unlike a downspout, which is essentially a closed pipe, rain chains are an open water runoff system that consists of a decorative chain for the rain to run down from the roof to the ground. 

Most rain chains are made from a metallic material like copper, stainless steel, or brass, but sometimes they’re crafted from ceramic or glass.

How Do Rain Chains Work?

The point of a rain chain is to divert rainwater away from the house in a visually pleasing way. As it rains, water will trickle from the roof toward the edge of the eaves/gutters and then flow down the chain to the ground. 

Along the chain, individual elements such as cups, links, or other decorative shapes are used to channel the water in a controlled fashion. 

By dispersing water evenly, rain chains facilitate effective drainage, particularly when paired with rain barrels or basins for further collection or dispersion. 

Benefits of Rain Chains

There are many advantages of rain chains that are worth considering. Here’s a look at some of them:

  • Aesthetic Appeal: First and foremost, rain chains are an aesthetic alternative to downspouts. While downspouts are primarily practical and functional in design, rain chains blend in well with your outdoor spaces and can really make a statement as a decorative element for your home or garden.
  • Eco-friendly Option: Rain chains reduce soil erosion by slowing down rainwater, helping the natural absorption process, which can restore the groundwater table. Rain chains can be a more sustainable approach to rainwater management, particularly when captured and reused for lawns, gardens, houseplants, and other chores requiring water.
  • Auditory Pleasure: There’s a more auditory experience with rain chains than traditional downspouts. Many people find the sound of rain moving down a rain chain soothing and great for ambiance. 
  • Flexibility in Design and Material: Rain chains come in a wide variety of designs and materials, so you’ll have no trouble finding one that fits your personal style or the architectural design of your home. You can find everything from simplistic steel chains to intricate copper designs to chains decorated with whimsical tea kettles and cups pouring from one to the next. Best of all, they’re waterproof, so they’re not likely to degrade.

Design Options and Styles

As we’ve just briefly touched on, you can choose from an extensive array of designs. Some of the different kinds of rain chains include:

  • Cup Style Rain Chains: This chain style features a series of “cups” that capture and channel the water downwards. The cups can be shaped like actual cups or take the shape of flowers or bells, among other things. 
  • Link Style Rain Chains: The link style of rain chains is minimalistic but still effective at guiding water. It features interconnected links and sometimes comes in unique shapes or twists for added visual impact. 
  • Themed Rain Chains: A themed rain chain is a great option for a whimsical touch. For instance, if you’re a nature lover, some rain chains inspired by this theme would include details like leaves, birds, or butterflies. 
  • Combination Chains: Most chains will fall into this category, merging design elements like cups and interconnected links. They help ensure efficient water flow while offering multiple points of visual interest along their length. 

No matter the style, rain chains can be made of various materials, primarily metal. Since these metals are rust-resistant, the popular options for rain chains are aluminum, copper, and brass. However, budget-friendly rain chains made of plastic are also available. 

Installation Factors

Typically, rain chains are relatively simple to install. Just look for an existing gutter hole from where a downspout originally hung and install it there. Then, the chain dangles and routes rainwater from the gutter to the ground through gravity and the path created by the chain. 

There are a few factors to consider when installing your rain chain:

  1. The anchor point must support the chain when it’s fully laden with water during heavy rainstorms.
  2. Make sure there’s a path or basin at the bottom to collect or guide away the water so it’s not in danger of damaging your home’s foundation.
  3. The length must suit the height where it hangs to avoid excess pooling or splashing at the base. 

Maintaining a Rain Chain

Rain chains don’t require much maintenance. All you need to do is remove debris such as leaves, twigs, or dirt as it builds up so it doesn’t impede water flow. 

The only way to know if you have debris build-up is to regularly inspect your rain chain. Perform these inspections at least seasonally, but especially after heavy rainstorms. Clearing out debris will not only ensure water flow but also preserve the visual appeal of the chain. 

While most rain chains are made from metals that don’t rust, the metals can still become tarnished. If you’re not a fan of the natural patina copper develops over time, you’ll need to perform regular cleanings to restore the natural shine to the original metal color.

Costs and Considerations

Rain chains are relatively affordable, in general. However, depending on the intricacy of the design, the material, and the length, they can range in cost from $20 to upwards of $200 or more. Basic metal rain chains are more affordable, with elaborately designed copper chains at the other end of the spectrum. 


So, now that you know what a rain chain is, the question is if it’s a good option for your home. Rain chains are a fusion of artistry and functionality for your home’s exterior. 

While downspouts function perfectly fine in managing rainwater, they lack rain chains’ aesthetic grace and elegance. Because of this, rain chains are an undeniable option for elevating your outdoor space and the ambiance of your home. 

That said, a rain chain may not be the best solution for your home. It may be a good idea to seek the advice of a gutter professional to determine if a rain chain is effective enough at managing rainwater for your situation.

For instance, if you live in an area with frequent heavy rainstorms or lots of wind, chances are downspouts are more effective at redirecting rainwater away from your home. 

A gutter expert can also advise you on the best placement for your rain chain system and help with installation.

Contact us for a consultation with one of our local gutter professionals. We’ll help you figure out the best water runoff management system for your home.

Rain Chain FAQs

What is the downside to a rain chain?

A potential downside to rain chains is that they tend not to handle heavy rainfall as efficiently as traditional downspouts, which could lead to water pooling.

Rain chains also lack the stability and sturdiness that downspouts provide. Because they hang freely, they can easily blow around in the wind and may not survive higher winds.
Cold weather can also cause problems as water may freeze and make the rain chain heavy and prone to breaking and falling.

It’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of a rain chain vs. a downspout for your home. Sometimes it’s best to bring a professional in to learn if a rain chain alone will adequately redirect rainwater safely to the ground and away from your home.

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

There are a few options of what you can place at the bottom of your rain chain. Many homeowners put a bowl, while others have a rain barrel or position the rain chain so that rainwater channels into a pot or garden bed with water-loving plants. Just ensure the garden plot is sloped away from the house to prevent erosion or pooling of water, which can damage your home’s foundation.

Will a rain chain work without a gutter?

Typically, rain chains are designed to be attached to the gutter system, but they can sometimes be used without one.

Can rain chains handle heavy rain?

Rain chains work best with light to moderate rain. Heavy downpours could result in splashing or overflow.

Can you leave a rain chain out in the winter?

Yes, you can leave your rain chain out in winter. However, monitor it and clear up any debris to prevent damage to the chain or your home.