See those ugly powder-coated steel tubes sticking straight down from your house? They’re downspouts and they’re old-fashioned! If you live in a place that gets any amount of rain, you’ve probably noticed chains or things that look like inverted bells draping from gutters. Downspout alternatives such as rain chains direct rainwater in a relatively straight line to the ground or collection container. Some are literally chains, like the first one pictured below. Others are a series of linked vertical cups, performing the same function as the chain-style ones.
Single Rain Chain
This one is about as simple as it gets. And all items are available at your local hardware or home improvement store.
Begin with a minimum of 1/4″ sized chain and cut to length so that it reaches from the gutter to the ground, with about 1 foot of chain draping on the ground.
If you want the modern look or just don’t like rust, use zinc-plated chain. It will remain shiny through the ages, as long as the plating is undisturbed.
Single chains are the worst for effectively directing water downward, but they are the least obtrusive.
Hammered Copper Rain Cups
By far the prettiest option of all, these copper “inverted umbrella” cups are hand-hammered to lend rich texture to the surface. Beyond the visual appeal, these wider types of “chains” do a better job of keeping falling water on the vertical.
Running around $75 to $100, they can be a bit pricey, especially when multiplied several times over to accommodate all downspout areas. But they are most likely to elicit murmurs of admiration from your guests.
Rain Chain Cups and Barrel
This is a solution to 2 problems. Rain cups descend from the gutter to direct rainwater into a barrel. The barrel prevents water from pooling around the foundation or, worse, blasting between the foundation and earth like a fire hose–a major cause of crawlspace flooding.
Adding the rain barrel to the chains will certainly make this set-up green and eco-friendly. Water that normally would have been wasted can be collected in barrels and sent to garden beds by tubes.
This is another quick-and-dirty way to add chains. Keep the existing gutters and run the chains through the hole at the end of the gutter.
Likely, this owner formed a circle out of stiff wire (not visible) to keep the chains separated within the rain gutter.
Rain Chains: In Brief
- Replace downspouts entirely.
- Must be anchored at ground-level to prevent swaying.
- Must lead to a collection point, whether a gravel-filled pit, barrel, or diverter that channels water away from foundation.
- Clustering multiple chains allows for better water direction.
- Done right, they rise beyond mere functionality and become an artistic touch; or what our Weather Expert terms “weather-inspired decor.”
- Rain chains place style over function. Nothing can be more functional for directing water than an enclosed tube.
- Though touted as green and eco-friendly, they are no more green and eco-friendly than downspouts (unless they lead to a rain barrel, which downspouts can do, as well).
- At the ground-level end point, downspouts can lead directly into a diversion tube, effectively moving water as far away from the house as you wish. Alternatively, downspouts can run into concrete, plastic, or recycled rubber splash blocks, moving water up to 3 feet away. Rain chains can lead into barrels, but it’s difficult to accurately aim the water into diversion devices.