The What, Why, Where and How of Rain Chains

What are rain chains for? How are they installed? Do they work in heavy rain? Get the answers to these questions and more with these great rain chain garden ideas.

 The What, Why, Where and How of Rain Chains | Want to know what rain chains are? Or how they are installed? Or why you would want one?  Or where the water goes?  Find out here..

Rain Chains

I actually don’t remember where I first saw a rain chain, but I do remember that I fell in love with it the moment I saw it.  I have one at the front of my house that I absolutely love, and I am plotting to get some more!

Although rain chains are becoming more popular, I still get a lot of people asking me what it is when they see it on my house…or if I happen to mention it in conversation.  So I thought I would write about my experience with my rain chain.

In case you want to skip right to your area of interest, here are some direct links (these all open in a new window so you can get back here easily by closing it).

What Are Rain Chains Used For?

Contemporary landscape by debora carl landscape design
Contemporary Landscape by Encinitas Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers debora carl landscape design

But first…to answer the basic question…What is a rain chain?

At the functional level, rain chains are a replacement for the downspout from your gutters.

The water flows from the eaves trough through the hole where the downspout used to be and onto the chain.

Then it runs down the chain to whatever you are using to collect or redirect the water.

Rain chain cup with hole in the bottom
Rain chain cup with hole in the bottom

Many of the chains have pails or cups with holes in the bottom that direct the water down the chain.

However, I think rain chains are so much more than just a replacement for a downspout.  Keep reading to find out more about rain chains.

Why Get a Rain Chain?

1. They Look Nice

Craftsman Exterior by Laura Livingston Landscapes

Craftsman Exterior by Santa Cruz Design-Build Firms Laura Livingston Landscapes

First rain chains look SOOO much better than a standard downspout.
Traditional rain chains are made of copper…which turns into that beautiful tarnished green color if it hasn’t been protected.

Copper Rain Chain With Patina*

Of course, if you’re impatient you could buy a rain chain* that already comes with the aged copper patina.

Either way, it looks absolutely beautiful in the garden!

Craftsman Entry by Ventana Construction LLC

Craftsman Entry by Seattle Home Builders Ventana Construction LLC

If copper or green aren’t your thing, you can powder coat them in a different color (like this fabulous purple one).

Aluminum Hammered Cup Rain Chain*

Or go for an aluminum version* that will stay silver.

2. Rain Chains Sound Pretty When It Rains

Rain chain rings
Rain chain rings

Second, rain chains sound really pretty when the water is flowing…something like a wind chime but caused by water instead of wind.

And you never get that annoying dripping noise that sometimes happens with downspouts when the water hits the bottom of the spout.

3. Rain Chains Are A No-Maintenance Water Feature

Modern Exterior by Rawlings Design, Inc.

Modern Exterior by Decatur Architects & Building Designers Rawlings Design, Inc.

Third, you get a water feature in your garden that doesn’t require any maintenance.

There’s no pump to clean, no checking to make sure the water hasn’t run down, and nothing to empty in the winter.  Now that’s my kind of water feature!

4. They Turn Into An Ice Sculpture

Rain chains even look good in the winter | The What, Why, Where and How of Rain Chains
Rain chains even look good in the winter

Fourth, they even look nice in the winter.

Check out my frozen rain chain on one of the few icy, snowy winter days we get in South Carolina.


Where Does The Water Go?

Craftsman Landscape by Laura Livingston Landscapes

Craftsman Landscape by Santa Cruz Design-Build Firms Laura Livingston Landscapes

I personally use a rain barrel underneath my rain chain.

It comes with a faucet and hose attachment at the bottom of the barrel, so I can easily use the water for my garden.  Since there are no outdoor faucets at the front of my house, it really saves a lot of time lugging hoses and watering cans around.

Using a ceramic or copper basin at the bottom of the rain chain is a traditional way to catch the water, and looks really pretty.  Just make sure there is a way for the overflow to drain properly.

Eclectic Landscape by Natalie DeNormandie

Eclectic Landscape by Lincoln Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers Natalie DeNormandie

You can also build a basin into the ground which then lets the water drain away from the house.  You will often see these covered in rocks so that they blend in with their surroundings.

Modern Landscape by Huettl Landscape Architecture

Modern Landscape by Pleasant Hill Landscape Architects & Landscape Designers Huettl Landscape Architecture

If you are replacing a downspout that drains underground, you could leave the drainage system in place.

Then make sure that the rain chain is positioned above the drain pipe so that the water flows to the right spot.  You may need to make a downward sloping funnel around the hole since some of the water may splash outside of the hole.

 Or attach the bottom of the chain to the ground so that it doesn’t have as much movement.

Rain Chain Fountain by Phyliss Warman

via phylliswarman.com (site no longer available)

Finally, some people get really creative and make whole water fountains out of the run off.

Do Rain Chains Work Well?

Tropical Porch by Tropical Architecture Group, Inc

Tropical Porch by Kilauea Architects & Building Designers Tropical Architecture Group, Inc

Rain chains have been used in Japan for hundreds of years to direct (and collect) the water from the roofs of buildings.  So they certainly have a lot of history.

When I first installed mine I wasn’t sure if it would work as well as the downspout, especially since we get some pretty heavy rainfalls in this part of the country.

Now that I have had it for a few years, I can say that it works just as well as the downspout did.

Actually I would go one step further and say that it’s better…I have a big tree in my front yard and the downspout always used to get clogged with tree leaves.  That never happens with the rain chain…the leaves just fall to the ground.

How Do You Install A Rain Chain?

The rain chain bracket
The rain chain bracket

The installation was actually much easier than I thought it was going to be.

First, you disconnect the down spout…undoing the screws that were holding the down spout in place was probably the hardest part of the job.

Most rain chains came with a bracket that looks like a V with tails.

The rain chain bracket fits in the hole where the down spout used to be
The rain chain bracket fits in the hole where the down spout used to be

Place this bracket into the eave trough with the V coming down through the hole where the downspout used to be.  (Sorry for the dirty eaves…I haven’t done the spring clean up yet!)

The rain chain loop hooks onto the bracket
The rain chain loop hooks onto the bracket

Hook the first rung of the rain chain to the V portion of the bracket.  You’re done!

What Types Of Rain Chains Are There?

Asian Landscape by MAGDALENA & MGS Architecture

Asian Landscape by Marina Del Rey Architects & Building Designers MAGDALENA & MGS Architecture

Traditional rain chains have a cup or pail design.

These curved objects are suspended from the chain every 6″ to 12″ and catch the water as it flows down the chain.

This slows down the water flow and causes the pretty tinkling sounds.

Modern Exterior by Watershed Architects

Modern Exterior by Richmond Architects & Building Designers Watershed Architects

The rain chains with objects suspended from them can get a little expensive.  To have the effect without spending as much money, you can buy a copper chain without any embellishments.

I have also heard of people using standard chain, which would be an even more economical way to get a rain chain (although I’m not sure that would have the same visual appeal).

Cascading Leaves Rain Chain*

Finally there are some really decorative chains that are almost pieces of art, like this cascading leaves rain chain.

If you don’t mind splurging a little, they can be a show stopper in your garden.

DIY rain chain with leaves
DIY rain chain with leaves

Or you can make your own rain chain.  Click here to learn how.

Hopefully you have found some rain chain inspiration of your own!

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30 Responses

  • I of course love the leaves so will be anxiously waiting to see how you make yours. I am a sad to say,a copier of you wonderful people,but — I can copy and make my own with the best of them. We applied for a rain barrel last year but late as I had just bought my 1910 house. It has been made way to modern for me and a rain chains would be so lovely. And who thought to use the big urn. Garden center here I come. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Jody! It seems like a lot of the rain barrels are pretty modern looking (mine is too). I do think a big urn would look so much better…when I install my next rain chain, I’ll probably go that route, too 🙂

  • Thank you for the wonderful article! I have been a fan of rain chains for a number of years. Recently, I got into Kiln formed glass and tried to create a rain chain made of recycled glass. The question was what type of metal to use to hold the glass together for weight and visual purposes. So I went to Home Depot and purchased some galvanized chains that were meant for outdoors, and proceeded. The end result was perfect and I was so happy. Unfortunately, within a week the chains were rusted and the rust stained the glass.

    I have been looking for “copper” chains that I could purchase and try my hand again. Unfotunately, copper is very expensive, and they do not sell chains where I live (Maui). Could you recommend either where I might find copper chains, or another metal that would not rust that is affordable?

    Thank you,

    • Thanks, Debbie! Even on the mainland, it’s hard to find chain that won’t rust and is reasonably priced…I actually ended up making my own copper rain chain from the flexible copper tubing that is usually used for installing refrigerators. It’s available in 20 foot lengths from the local hardware store and shouldn’t be very expensive. It took a couple of hours to cut and put together. If you’re interested in the instructions, you can find them here.

  • Copper oxidizes worse than the various chains you’ll find at the hardware store. Copper turns into a turquoise color powdery oxidation and does so extremely fast. You would do better putting out the money for stainless steel chain. I might suggest polyurethane coating but… it’s going to wear off soon, chip and flake off. If you dipped the chain in polyurethane (outdoor type found at hardware stores) that may work but I have no idea how you’d keep it from drying together so it doesn’t move freely. If you touch, move or try to keep the chain moving freely you’ll be removing the polyurethane that is needed to protect the chain. You can also buy coated chain that has a really thick plastic coating on it. That is what I’d suggest. It’s expensive but lasts a very long time.

    • I actually like the look of copper when it oxidizes so I’m not too worried about that part. Actually, now that I think about it, the refrigeration coil that I used must have something in it that slows the oxidation down. I have had the chain up for about a year now and it isn’t showing any signs of oxidation yet. But you’re right, if you want to make sure that the chain stays shiny, you will probably want to look for something that has a protective coat.

  • we don’t have gutters so I use my rain chains at the end of the metal guards where the water spills off the roof into my rain barrel

  • I bought cheap rain chain from an online catalog about 10 years ago. I don’t know what it’s made of but it looks like copper and hasn’t tarnished. Everyone loves it. Only problem, since it’s a cheaper version, it wasn’t quite long enough to reach the ground. I should’ve bought 2 sets and connected them but didn’t think of that till much later. To fix that, I bought a metal planter at Home Depot, drilled a ton of holes in the bottom, positioned the bottm straight section of a wire hanger up the middle and filled the planter with white stones. I then hooked the top of the hanger wire in the bottom cup of the rain chain. That anchors the rain chain and keeps it from flailing all over the place when it rains. Looks great and works well. I can even add small decorations to the planter in the summer. And you’re right, in the winter it looks just as great. I love when the sun starts to melt the ice and it drips. It sparkles!

  • Can a rain chain be left up through the winter in the Midwest or would the ice weight pull down my gutter?

    • Hi Susan…I haven’t heard of anyone having a problem with the ice weight pulling the gutter down, but I think it might depend on how long the chain is and how much ice has accumulated. I would probably go out and knock the ice off if it looked like it was building up a lot.

    • MN here, I have left mine up year round… It does get a little icy in the winter, but not to heavy, and its really pretty with a little ice and the sun shining on it!

  • I can’t find any information on anchoring the free end of the chain? I am sure that you don’t let it swing in the wind. What can you tell me about this.

    • Hi Jerry…I actually don’t have mine anchored. They don’t seem to get blown around very much…maybe they are close enough to the house that they are somewhat protected from the wind? Anyhow, I have seen people install a hook in a concrete block or big rock underneath the chain, and then attach the bottom rung of the chain to that. Hope that helps!

  • I love that you talked about how you think that rain chains are so much more than just a replacement for a downspout. My neighbor is looking to get some copper rain chains for her home to change the look of it. I think I will talk to her about how they can be so much more than just a replacement!

  • Thank you for your great article and that you posted on Pinterest. It was lovely. I don’t have a rain chain but love the rain so am considering putting one up. I know nothing about them other then what I’ve seen them on tv where homes were being remodeled or updated. Always thought they were interesting because they involved “rain”, but never knew how they worked much less that they were so readily available. So thank you for the education.

    • Thanks Royce! I’m glad you found the post helpful. Rain chains are one of my favorite things in my garden, so I’m always happy to share what I’ve learned about them 🙂

  • Would a rain chain stand up to Michigan winters? We gets lots of ice and snow. Would the ice on the rain chain be too heavy for the gutter to hold?

    • Hi Linda…Since I live in SC, I don’t have a lot of personal experience with how they do in lots of snow and ice. However, I do have some friends in Toronto that have one up all year and haven’t had any problems. If you’re worried about it, you could also take it down in the fall and put it back up in the spring.

  • Such great dress. I too had always wondered about rain chains. I like the look of them and the idea of it. I hate downspouts, especially when they get clogged. I do wonder living in FL if it’s at all reasonable to use one. I have two concerns. I keep thinking so much rain would just overwhelm it? And what to do in Hurricane season..because it’s also rainy season. I could take the rain chain down when a hurricane is due…but I’m not always there when that happens….so may it not a good idea.

    • I think the heavy rain would be okay. We get some downpours in SC, too, and I have never had a problem with it not working. But hurricane season would be an issue if you can’t be there to take it down. It could definitely cause some damage in the wind.

  • The winter ice could break the rain chain. I have had 3 on our house for 4 years and only had a problem this year. The ice did t melt and drain away fast enough to leave a space for the water to drain away. I live in cody,Wyoming the ice built up in all the cups and the weight pulled the chain apart between the cups. It was not too difficult to take a ladder and get up to the broken wire, and reinsert the end of the wire back into the hole of the cup. Since this year, I will keep a better check on the ice buildup. Hope this helps answer you question.

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