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What Is a Rain Chain?

Default Author Icon Written by Mike Miller Updated 04/02/2024

As homeowners replace traditional gutter systems, rain chains have become an increasingly popular option for managing rainwater. These decorative chains replace traditional downspouts, transforming a functional element of your gutter system into a soothing water feature.

To help you decide if rain chains are right for your home, we rounded up everything you need to know about this gutter downspout alternative. Our guide explains how rain chains work, the different types available, and how they compare to downspouts.

How Do Rain Chains Work?

Rain chains, also known as kusari-doi, have been used in Japan for centuries to perform a function like downspouts. They can even be connected to your eaves or gutters instead of downspouts. As water collects in your gutters, it drains toward the rain chains and, thanks to surface tension, slides down the chain to the ground. Rain chains, like downspouts, can help direct the water to a safe drainage area such as a water feature or a landscaped garden bed.

Unlike traditional gutter downspouts, rain chains help to slow the flow of water, which can reduce soil erosion. However, depending on the layout of your property, you may need to add other elements to ensure that water flows away from your home’s foundation. For instance:

  • French drains: A French drain is an underground trench filled with gravel and a perforated pipe. These unobtrusive drains efficiently collect and redirect water away from your house. You can install a French drain directly beneath your rain chains to make sure that excess water doesn’t pool near your foundation.
  • Rain barrels: Rain barrels collect runoff from the roof, allowing you to conserve this water for gardening and other purposes. Anchoring your rain chain to a rain barrel allows you to capture the water for later use.
  • Decorative basins: Instead of a large rain barrel, you can place a decorative basin or urn beneath the rain chain. The overflowing water creates a pleasing visual effect and can be further redirected into a drainage system or landscaped area.
  • Drip paths: Drip paths are carefully planned areas lined with rocks or gravel. They guide the water from the rain chain to a designated area of your yard, promoting better drainage. Add plants that thrive in moist conditions along the drip path.
  • Rain gardens: Rain chains can be directed to discharge into a rain garden, creating a sustainable watering system for plants. These beautiful, sunken gardens are filled with native plants that absorb and filter rainwater runoff from your roof.

When paired with rain chains, these yard drainage solutions keep rainwater from spattering back against your siding or oversaturating the ground near your home’s foundation.

Types of Rain Chains

Homeowners can choose from two main types of rain chains: links or cups. Both options come in several styles and materials.

Some rain chains simply provide a path for water to follow. The links can be as plain or ornate as you’d like, whether as basic oval links, twist loops, rectangular links, or fleur-de-lis designs.
The most common colors include silver, gold, copper, oil-rubbed bronze, black, white, and copper patina. Most are made from lightweight aluminum or stainless steel with a powder-coated or copper-plated finish.
Link rain chains may be a good choice if your area doesn’t often experience heavy rainfall. Although decorative, they tend to be less conspicuous than cup-style rain chains.
Interspaced with links, some rain chains feature small containers to collect rainwater. These rain chains can handle more water than their cupless counterparts and are made with the same materials and finishes.
Cup rain chains also come in various designs. The cups can be round, square, conical, scalloped, or even triangular. Often, they’re patterned after nature or architecture from East Asia. The cups might be reminiscent of honeysuckle, calla lilies, koi, or a Japanese pagoda. However, you can also find geometric designs and kitschy shapes such as umbrellas or watering cans.

Rain Chains vs. Downspouts

Before installing rain chains, it’s important to weigh their pros and cons. Although rain chains can be a functional alternative to gutter downspouts, they do have drawbacks and limitations. Here are a few things to consider as you compare these two options.

Curb Appeal

Rain chains will generally be more noticeable than downspouts, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Most homeowners choose to paint downspouts to match their home’s siding. Rain chains, however, typically have a black or metallic finish that won’t blend in.

If your home features stone, brick, or wood grain siding rather than vinyl siding, traditional gutter downspouts will stick out anyway. In that case, rain chains might be less obtrusive.

In either case, you can use rain chains to increase the curb appeal of your home. Simply choose a design that complements the architectural style of your home and a finish that pairs well with outdoor decor.

Rain chains also double as a water feature. Rather than water pouring through a downspout, you’ll hear the soothing sound of water gently dripping down the chains or into the cups. Some rain chains are even designed to chime as they guide rainwater to the ground.


Rain chains don’t clog, so they’re generally easier to maintain than gutter downspouts—especially if you invest in copper rain chains. You may still need to clean your gutters occasionally, but the rain chains themselves should require very little maintenance. While debris that makes its way into your rain gutters might eventually clog a downspout, rain chains should be unaffected.

However, you may need to keep an eye on rain chains during the winter. Ice can form along the rain chains and in the cups. Although the ice formations might look pretty, the weight of the ice could put stress on your eaves or gutters.

Rain chains can also be damaged or rendered ineffective by high winds. If you live in a windy area, install an anchoring dish to prevent your rain chains from blowing around. You can also connect rain chains to a stake, heavy pot, or rain barrel.


As long as they remain unclogged, downspouts will almost always perform better than rain chains. They have a higher capacity and channel water away from your home versus guiding it toward the ground. As a result, they’re better at preventing soil erosion and foundation problems.

Rain chains can be an effective alternative, though. As long as your area doesn’t experience heavy rainfall, you can use rain chains to preserve your landscaping. The water runoff from a gutter downspout could easily flood a garden bed, but rain chains slow the water flow considerably. If your area is prone to high precipitation, you can still use rain chains but may need to pair them with French drains or a rain barrel.


Rain chains can cost about as much as gutter downspouts but can be cheaper in some situations. It all depends on the material, length, and design of the specific rain chains and downspouts you’re considering.

You can expect to pay $50–$100* for a rain chain. Vinyl or aluminum downspouts cost $5–$8 per linear foot installed, or $60–$96 for a 12-foot length. Keep in mind that downspouts typically require additional pieces such as an elbow, offset, extension, and splash block. Rain chains, meanwhile, often need some type of anchor and collection or drainage system.

High-end materials like copper will increase the price of both rain chains and downspouts. Copper rain chains might cost more than a basic aluminum downspout, but they’ll likely be less expensive than the $17–$20 per linear foot you’d pay for copper downspouts.

When comparing costs, consider installation as well. Rain chains are often easier to install than downspouts, so you can save on labor costs by handling the installation yourself.

* Cost data sourced from Angi.

How To Install a Rain Chain

To install a rain chain, start by reading the manufacturer’s instructions. The attachment method and tools required may vary depending on your chosen product.

Next, consider where the water will go. This step is especially important if you’re replacing your downspouts with rain chains. Remember, rain chains won’t direct water away from your home’s foundation the way downspouts do. As a result, you may need to set up a water collection or drainage system.

If you plan to use an anchoring dish, dig a hole where the dish will be. The hole should be a few inches wider than the dish and about 6 inches deep. Fill the hole with 3/4-inch drainage rock and place a few river stones on top for aesthetics. Attach the top of the rain chain to your gutter and the bottom to the anchoring dish. Alternatively, you can place a rain barrel beneath the rain chain to collect water.

Finally, test the rain chain by spraying water onto your roof with a hose to simulate rain.

DIY vs. Professional Installation

Rain chain installation is a relatively simple do-it-yourself (DIY) project. Most rain chains come with a gutter adapter or installation kit that makes it easy to connect them to your existing gutter system.

If you also need new gutters, it may be best to hire a professional to handle gutter installation and rain chain placement. This option will cost more, but you’ll likely benefit from their expertise. You can also look into having high-quality gutter guards installed at the same time.

Should you decide on the DIY route, take time to research and observe the best place to install rain chains. This could be as simple as putting them wherever you currently have downspouts. You might also want to check the ground around your home for signs of gutter overflow such as soil erosion, pooling water, or mulch displacement. Carefully placed rain chains could help to alleviate these issues.

In the video below, landscape contractor Roger Cook helps a homeowner install a rain chain in a place where traditional downspouts would be impractical and unsightly. He also demonstrates how to add a drainage pot to collect the water and reduce spattering.

Our Conclusion

Rain chains can be an attractive alternative to traditional downspouts. However, you may need to pair them with a rain barrel or French drains to prevent soil erosion and foundation damage.

This is where an expert opinion can be helpful. Although you can easily replace your downspouts with rain chains, that might not be enough to ensure proper drainage. This is where an expert opinion can be helpful. A professional gutter company can help with placement, installation, and any other steps needed to protect your home.

FAQ About Rain Chains

What is the point of a rain chain?

The point of a rain chain is to help direct water safely from your roof to a drainage area or a water collection system on the ground. Rain chains are an aesthetically pleasing alternative to traditional gutter downspouts.

Do rain chains work for heavy rain?

Rain chains can work for heavy rain if they’re paired with gutters and a water collection or drainage system. Cup-style rain chains will work better for heavy rain than link-style rain chains.

Are rain chains better than downspouts?

Rain chains often look and sound better than downspouts, and they generally require less maintenance. However, downspouts can handle heavy rain better and are better at preventing soil erosion and foundation damage.

What do you put at the bottom of a chain chain?

You can put an anchoring dish, rain barrel, French drain, decorative basin, or drainage rocks at the bottom of a rain chain. You can also direct the water into a landscaped bed, rain garden, drip path, or water feature.

Does a rain chain have to attach to a gutter?

Most rain chains are designed to work with gutters, but a rain chain doesn’t have to attach to a gutter. There are creative workarounds to use rain chains without gutters, but these are less common and might not be as effective in heavy rainfall.

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