What Is a Rain Chain?

Gemma Johnstone
Written by Gemma Johnstone
Updated December 20, 2021
beige home with rain chain
Photo: Andriy Blokhin / Adobe Stock


  • Rain chains are a more aesthetically pleasing alternative to downspouts

  • They aren’t the best solution if you live in a region prone to high winds and heavy rainfall

  • Cup designs produce less splashback than plain chains

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Gutter systems’ downspouts might serve an essential practical purpose, but, let’s face it, they’re not that easy on the eye. Rain chains (kusari-doi) have been popular in Japan for hundreds of years, and you might have seen them popping up in the States over the last decade or so. These downspout alternatives have a decorative and practical function, but they aren’t suitable for every situation.

Learn more about rain chains, when you can use them, and how they provide a wow factor to your home’s exterior.

How Do Rain Chains Work?

stone home with rain chain in front
Photo: Jason / Adobe Stock

Rain chains connect to gutters or eaves in place of the downspout. Normally, the rainwater from the roof flows into an enclosed pipe, but with rain chains, the water visibly follows the chain down to the ground or, more often, into a barrel or water feature. As with a downspout, by following this path, the flow of water slows, minimizing soil loss and erosion on the downpour site, and it keeps the water from running freely down the side of your house.

Why Use Rain Chains?

If you’re looking for an elegant alternative to plain metal or vinyl downspouts, you might want to opt for rain chains. It’s calming to see and hear the water ebbing and flowing down the chain as rain falls. Some people describe them as functional water features.

Collecting the rainwater in a barrel at the bottom of the chain is a great way to conserve water, especially in drought-prone regions. Use it to irrigate your landscape, provide a water source for wildlife, top-up outdoor ponds, or even in the home with the proper treatment.

What Are the Different Types of Rain Chains?

Some rain chain designs are more functional than others. The most simple style is a length of chain made from metals like brass, copper, steel, or aluminum. This minimalist design creates the most splashback, though, and might not be the best choice for regions that experience heavy rain or for installation next to doors or open windows.

More elaborate designs featuring fluted cups at intervals along the length of the chain are available. While making the chain more costly, these cups better capture and direct the water, meaning splashing is less of a problem. However, they’re heavier than simple rain chains, especially when filled with water, and you’ll need to ensure your guttering can handle this extra weight. Opt for cups that are at least 3 to 4 inches in diameter for them to work effectively.

What Are the Pros of Rain Chains?

bronze rain chain close up
Photo: DmitriK / Adobe Stock

When you compare them to traditional downspouts, rain chains have some significant advantages:

  • Aesthetically pleasing and come in a variety of styles and materials

  • The sound they produce is relaxing

  • Usually less expensive than downspouts

  • Easy to install

  • High-quality metal rain chains age well, and copper ones can develop an eye-catching patina

What Are the Cons of Rain Chains?

Sometimes it’s better to stick with downspouts. Here are some disadvantages of using rain chains:

  • Not as sturdy as downspouts and, with less water capacity and control, they aren’t suitable for use in areas with very high winds and heavy rainfall

  • Water freezes quickly on the chains, adding weight to the gutters and eaves

  • Bad weather and improper installation can result in improper water direction—and, in the worst-case scenario, you might start seeing signs of foundation damage

  • Some metals leach toxic materials, so you won’t want to use any captured rainwater for ponds or birdbaths

Are Rain Chains Suitable For My Home?

Rain chains aren’t usually the best option if high winds and heavy rains are common in your region; they just don’t direct the high flow of water as well as downspouts, and they aren’t as stable either.  

If you decide to use them for aesthetic reasons, you might want to use them alongside traditional downspouts. Selecting chains made from heavier materials helps, too, as does securing the chain at the ground to prevent the wind from moving it too much.

For homeowners with narrow eaves less than 3 feet wide, downspouts are a better option unless you use a bracket to extend the chain away from your home.

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