The What, Why, Where and How of Rain Chains

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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.

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The What, Why, Where and How of Rain Chains

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  • 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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