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Rain Chains What Are They and How to Use Them

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Most passionate gardens have probably heard of a trellis, garden stakes, or other tools that decorate your outdoor haven and help it thrive.

However, another highly decorative and functional gardening tool many gardeners might not be aware of is rain chains. 

Rain chains are a gardening tool and décor that allows for purposeful redirection of water for either drainage or collection.

You can easily install them nearly anywhere around your house and garden and use them to either collect water for a reservoir, replace your gutter downspout, or simply brighten up your outdoor space. 

Table of Contents

What Are Rain Chains?

Rain chains look something like a string of wind chimes and are primarily used to help direct rain or flowing water.

Most rain chain users will install them above a rain barrel, a birdbath, or some sort of basin or water feature to help keep water filling these tools for collection purposes or prevent yard flooding. 

In addition to a collection, one of the most prominent purposes of rain chains is to replace gutter downspouts on your roof’s drainage system.

Having a proper drainage system is essential to your roof’s longevity regardless of annual precipitation in your area.

Most gutter downspouts are prone to falling off or can just be an absolute eyesore on your home.

Using a rain chain is a fantastic way to have the same results as a classic gutter downspout but in a highly efficient and aesthetically pleasing manner, which brings us to our last point.

Rain chains are highly functional tools, but they are also charming pieces of garden décor. As a result, they come in various designs, from modern minimalist chains to cup chains decorated with iron sculpted figures such as birds or watering cans. 

Typically, if the rain chain’s purpose is for gutter drainage, they’ll have a basic design, versus decorative rain chains for additional garden aesthetics will be more ornate. 

How Do Rain Chains Work?

Looking at rain chains, it might seem unlikely that they can be just as effective in water drainage and redirection as a pipe or gutter downspout. 

Seeing as their design essentially consists of either a solitary chain or what is referred to as a cupped chain where the chain is intermittently broken up by decorative funnels or cup features, it’s hard to imagine how they could efficiently redirect water linearly into a designated spot.

They can do just this due to their ingenious but simple design, which utilizes surface tension to help direct water down the chain. 

Typically, rain chains are installed somewhere on your roof where you would ordinarily place a downspout.

When it rains, the collection of water will flow down your gutter system and over your rain chain.

However, instead of the water running off the chain in all directions, it will follow the path of least resistance down the chain in a linear path to the ground. 

Since the speed of water flow is slowed during this process, it will reach the ground at a reduced speed than a traditional downspout, and so, it is less likely to erode soil beneath the chain.

The speed of flowing water could also be inhibited with a cupped chain over a solitary chain if you are concerned for your soil or want to minimize splashback on your home. 

Remember, when installing a rain chain to replace a gutter downspout, the end of the chain must channel water to flow away from your home’s foundation.

Otherwise, the chain will cause water to collect beneath it and might cause foundation damage if the water flows towards your home or pools beside it.  

Reason to Invest in Rain Chains

Rain chains have become increasingly popular in the United States, although they are a Japanese invention that potentially dates back as far as 1558-1600 CE.

Although most American homes still utilize traditional gutter downspouts, there are a series of reasons why rain chains make a fantastic addition to your home or garden space.  

Affordable Alternative to a Traditional Gutter Downspout 

Not only can the rain chain be a nice aesthetic touch to your backyard, but they are also a highly affordable alternative to a downspout.

Most basic rain chains cost somewhere in the range of $50-$70. Although most gutter downspouts are cheaper, typically costing only $5-$10, what they gain in affordability they lose in functionality. 

Yes, they redirect water off of your roof, as is their primary function, but most gutter downspouts are made of aluminum. As a result, they are easily damaged or disconnect from the roof, and therefore, require frequent replacement and reinstallation.

The other downside of a traditional gutter downspout is that they clog easily with leaves and other natural debris. As a result, they must be cleared regularly for them to function properly. 

Rain chains, on the other hand, are typically made of sturdier materials, such as stainless steel or copper, and are much easier to clear of environmental debris than the inside of a downspout tube. 

Extremely Versatile Tools

A benefit of rain chains is that you can use them for a wide range of purposes to suit your needs.

We’ve mentioned already that you can use rain chains to replace an existing downspout, but another option is installing them to support your gutter system. 

Some old houses won’t have downspouts in all the right places, which could result in unwanted soil splattering at the base of your foundation.

This could damage the exterior of your home and ruin any flowerbeds below. Rather than installing a whole new gutter and downspout, you could easily install a rain chain instead. 

If you decide after installation that you prefer your traditional gutter downspout over a rain chain, no problem. You can easily remove the rain chain from your roof and use it for something else.

Although a downspout alternative is one of the most popular uses of rain chains, you can also hook them onto a garden shepherd’s hook and let them channel water into a planter, a collection bucket, or over a crop or patch of lawn that doesn’t receive sufficient water.

Rain chains are also exceptional pieces of décor if you don’t intend to use them for any sort of water collection or redirection.

There is a wide range of ornate rain chains you can purchase, and they are all easy to install and long-lasting.  

You can hang a rain chain from your home instead of a classic wind chime, or you can use it to create a sort of alternative fountain feature in your garden.

Regardless of where you put them, rain chains are guaranteed to catch the eye of any visitor and give your garden space an extra element of charm.

Creates a Quiet and Calming Atmosphere

Rain chains aren’t exactly silent when it is raining outside, but the sound they make is more reflective of a trickling stream versus the loud pattering you hear from aluminum downspouts.

If you’re getting tired of how loud your traditional downspout is during the rainy season, a rain chain is a fantastic alternative. 

Compared to aluminum downspouts, rain chains are much quieter and create a calm, almost Zen-like atmosphere.

Now, instead of staying cooped up inside when it rains, venture out to your porch or deck and listen to the soothing sounds of falling rain and your rain chains. 

If you have a roofed deck or porch, all the better. Grab a book, or your favorite hot beverage, take a seat with a nice fluffy blanket and just revel in the relaxing sounds of nature. 

How to Use a Rain Chain

Rain chains are easy tools to install and utilize. If you purchased a rain chain purely for garden decoration or water collection, you can buy a shepherd’s hook that is at least a foot taller than your rain chains and simply hang the chain on the hook and marvel at its beauty. 

If you’d prefer to replace your gutter downspout with a rain chain or you want to install it for decoration purposes on your home, here is how to properly install it to your roof.

Steps to Install a Rain Chain to Your Roof

  1. Locate where you want to install your rain chain and mark where the chain will redirect water to the ground.
  2. Dig a hole about 30 inches wide and 6 inches deep around the center of the marked point.
  3. Fill the hole with ¾ inch stones.
  4. Buy a large flowerpot of your desired size where the rain chain will redirect the water. Ideally, try to purchase a pot with measurements that resemble 11.8″ x 13.8″ x 13.8″. You don’t want a small pot for this.  
  5. Drill several holes into the bottom of the flowerpot. This will help the water flow into the ground in a more controlled manner.
  6. Place the flowerpot over the hole filled with ¾ inch stones.
  7. Remove your existing gutter downspout. If you are installing a rain chain where a downspout did not exist previously, you will need to cut and drill a hole in the gutter large enough to clip or install your rain chain inside.
  8. Hang the rain chain of your choice in the hole originally meant for a downspout. A rain chain with cups will further reduce any splashback or potential splatter, which is ideal for home protection. 
  9. Ensure the chain hangs over or lays inside the pot you have placed underneath. If not, you will need to alter its position and potentially re-dig and re-fill the hole. 
  10. Fill the flowerpot interior about ½ to ¾ full of ¾ inch stone. If the rain chain is long enough to lay inside the pot, leave it there. 
  11. Fill the remaining space in the flowerpot with a thin layer of river stones.
  12. Layer your remaining river stones around your flowerpot base on top of the ¾ inch stones. Ideally, you’ll want to cover the ¾ inch stone completely with the river stones for a nice border around the flowerpot. 

Once everything is properly in place, just wait for rain.

Final Thoughts

Rain chains are a great way to spruce up your garden aesthetic or do away with that old gutter downspout. Although it might get a bit pricy to replace every single downspout on your home with an ornate rain chain, they’re great for replacing one or two as they break over time. 

Ultimately, rain chains are the perfect combination of beauty and functionality and are guaranteed to please any gardener or homeowner.  

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Jena Slocum Co-Founder

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