What Is a Rain Chain?

By Amanda Lutz Updated July 19, 2024

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Rain gutters and downspouts protect homes and foundations from the damaging effects of excess rainwater, but many homeowners find them ugly. Rain chains are increasingly popular alternatives to these types of gutter systems, guiding the flow of water away from your property while offering aesthetic appeal. Read about decorative rain chains, the different available styles, and proper rain chain installation techniques in the guide below.

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What Are Rain Chains?

Rain chains, also known as kusari-doi in Japanese, are long chains that descend from a property’s roofline to the ground level. Rain chains guide rainwater away from your home and have lots of surface area to which water can cling as it drips or streams downward. The rain chain’s independent parts often clink against each other, leading to musical effects and soothing sounds.

Rain chains were invented in Japan and first functioned as outdoor decor elements meant to appeal to the eyes and ears. If it’s not raining, metallic rain chains still delight the senses by offering glinting effects in the sunlight.

Types of Rain Chains

There are many different types of rain chains that homeowners can use, but most designs are either cup-style or link-style rain chains.

Cup-Style Rain Chains

Cup-style rain chain systems include small cups or buckets that are about 6 inches apart along the height of a vertical chain. The cups have holes at the bottom and along the sides so that water can spill out into the next cup along the chain, and so on.

This type of rain chain is ideal for areas that have heavy rainfall since the cups can manage a lot of water. The cups slow water down as it descends and prevent water from striking the ground too hard, which could lead to erosion.

Cup-style rain chains create pleasant clinking sounds as they empty and swing against chain links. These systems come in a wide range of metals, finishes, shapes, and cup sizes, and cup designs include circular shapes, fish shapes, and even flower shapes.

Link-Style Rain Chains

Link-style rain chains are simpler than cup-style systems but just as beautiful. These chains include a long series of interlinked circles or ovals that direct water without containing it. Some rain chains function similarly to downspouts, funneling all rainwater to the ground. Other systems channel water into rain barrels that homeowners can use to water their gardens.

Link-style systems are available as simple chain links, links that include circles of varying sizes, multiple strands of chains linked together, and other designs. They’re also available in many different colors and finishes.

How to Install a Rain Chain

Installing a rain chain under your home’s eaves is a simple DIY (do-it-yourself) project that you can likely complete without hiring a professional or spending much money. You can install rain chains along your home’s exterior in your backyard to create an elegant garden or could install chains around the perimeter of your house. You can even install just one chain near your front door as an accent.

Follow the steps below to properly install a rain chain:

1. Gather Your Supplies

As you collect supplies, make sure you have the rain chain itself, a V-hook, a gutter adapter that suspends the rain chain from the downspout hole in your gutter, and a rain chain anchor. The rain chain anchor keeps the bottom of the chain firmly in place against the ground, but you could also use a rain barrel, jar, or other fixture. You can simplify your shopping list by purchasing a complete rain chain installation kit.

You’ll also need household tools such as a ladder to reach the gutter, a screwdriver to attach the hardware, and tin snips. If your gutters don’t already have downspouts, you’ll also need to drill a hole into the bottom of the gutter.

2. Remove Your Downspout

Look for clips or screws that attach the downspouts to the wall of your home. Once the downspouts are loose, pull them out of the gutters. If you notice any tension stemming from tight spots, find and spray them with WD-40 or another lubricant. Finish unscrewing the fasteners, or pull the pieces loose. Remove all of the downspouts you intend to replace.

3. Find or Make the Downspout Hole in the Gutter

If you’ve already uninstalled a downspout, the gutter should have a hole in the bottom of its lowest edge. If your home doesn’t have downspouts or if there isn’t a downspout where you’d like to install a rain chain, then you’ll need to make that hole yourself.

The hole should be near the lowest end of your gutters, where there’s a slight slope of approximately 0.5 inch per 10 feet. You can also choose a different location based on your landscape design.

Use a drill with a 2-inch bit to cut a hole through the bottom of the gutter. Make sure the hole is wider across than the “V” portion of your V-hook but narrower than the distance across the entire hook.

4. Install the V-Hook and Rain Chain

Place the V-hook into the gutter so that the point of the “V” angles downward through the hole. Next, connect the first chain of the rain chain to either the V-hook or the gutter adapter. Either mechanism can secure and suspend your rain chain. Orient the rain chain according to your design scheme.

5. Install the Bottom Fixture and Reinforce the Rain Chain

Rain chains typically end with one of the following fixtures:

Place your chosen fixture directly under the gutter hole and rain chain, and check that it hangs vertically without a slant or a curve.

The right fixture for your household depends on the rain chain’s position, your region’s climate, and your design aesthetic. A rain barrel can collect rainwater for homeowners to use for lawn or garden upkeep, for example, but rain barrels can also attract mosquitoes.

Ceramic jars or bowls can be elegant alternatives to rain barrels and are best for areas that experience little rainfall. Lots of rain can overwhelm these systems, while cold weather could damage ceramic materials.

Once you’ve installed your chosen feature, anchor the bottom of the rain chain in place by driving a stake through the bottom rung and into the ground. This ensures that it won’t blow too aggressively in high winds or hit the side of your home.

Rain Chain Maintenance

Rain chain maintenance is simpler than traditional downspout maintenance. Follow the care steps below to keep your system in good shape:

Rain chains are built to handle downpours just as well as downspouts, but you should still closely monitor your home’s foundation and nearby landscaping during the first few months after installation. Look for any signs of erosion or damage that indicate your rain chain might not be collecting or redirecting water as well as possible.

Rain chains can withstand water, sunlight, and most winds. Many metals will continue to look the same no matter which weather patterns they encounter, while pure copper rain chains will develop a beautiful patina over time.

Rain Chains vs. Downspouts

Both rain chains and downspouts play key roles in protecting your landscape, foundation, and roofline from water damage. Each serves as a protective feature to direct water away from gutters to the ground.

Some homeowners prefer downspouts since they don’t make noise in the rain, are less expensive than rain chains, and can successfully repel tree leaves and debris with gutter guards. They’re also convenient since they’re typical elements of most home construction projects.

Other homeowners prefer rain chains because tree leaves and debris are less likely to clog them. Rain chains are also more stylish than downspouts and are available in different colors, shapes, and styles.

The key difference between downspouts and rain chains is that you must fasten downspouts against the side of your home while rain chains need to be fastened to the ground.

Our Recommendation

Rain chains are fun and functional alternatives to gutter downspouts that increase your home’s curb appeal. If you don’t like the way downspouts frame your home’s exterior or want to add a bit of personality to your property, a rain chain is an excellent investment. We recommend carefully selecting styles and complementing water features based on your region, weather, and the rain chain’s proximity to doors or windows.

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Rain Chain FAQ

What is the purpose of a rain chain?

The purpose of a rain chain is to direct water from your gutters to the ground. The chain slows the flow of rainwater so it doesn’t fall aggressively and damage your home’s foundation or landscaping.

Do rain chains work for heavy rain?

Rain chains can work for heavy rain. Select a sturdy rain chain with a lot of surface area, whether that’s through thick links, multiple strands of chains, or cup-style designs.

Are rain chains better than downspouts?

Rain chains can be better than downspouts depending on your design preferences. Some homeowners love having metallic chains that chime during the rain and shine in the sun.

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

You put a feature such as a French drain, rain barrel, or pot at the bottom of a rain chain to make sure that water flows away from your home.

What is the downside to a rain chain?

The downside to a rain chain is that not every chain may be able handle the volume of rainfall in your region. Thin chains, small jars, and bowls may struggle to handle heavy rainfall. Water could consequently pool across your landscape or along your foundation.