Rain comes and goes, but a rain chain is there to delight the eye on cloudy days and sunny.
What is a Rain Chain?
A rain chain is a simple vertical chain that hangs from a roof, usually beneath a gutter opening, and interacts with storm water to produce a sort of “rain sculpture,” as well as unexpectedly pleasant sounds.
While some are actual chains, others are collections of sculpture, cups, or other shapes held together with links. In all cases, water flows over and around the surface of the chain to produce a lovely effect.
According to any source I could find, rain chains have been used in Japan for hundreds of years. Called “kusari doi,” they were part of traditional household water collection systems.
I installed an “Ichiban Cups” all-copper model from Rain Chains Direct in August, 2014. I moved the chain around to several spots, always where I could see it from indoors. Whether hanging outside my laundry room or near the front door, it brightens a drab house corner in dry weather and is a positively charming sight in the rain.
The Ichiban copper cup model I tested produces a soft, pleasant sound in the rain. It is audible mostly through open windows or in the outdoors, however, so don’t worry about intrusive noises. Mine hung outside the laundry room for a while, where I could hear it softly singing in the summer rain.
The model I tested is 8.5′ long with 100% solid copper cups 3.5″H x 3.25″W. The weight is 3.2 lbs. (1 kilogram).
Rain Chains Direct is based in the Los Angeles area, but the model I tested was made in India.
Installation and Maintenance
The chain arrived almost fully assembled, except for the simple connector that allows it to hang from a gutter downspout.
Installation is Easy – Simply disconnect the existing downspout (which may take a ladder and a screwdriver), install the hanging insert into the drain hole in the attached gutter, and hang the rain chain.
According to the product literature, the copper cups require no maintenance but will develop a darker patina with age. They can be scrubbed with copper cleaning products if desired.
Reduces Erosion – Rain disperses more softly over a chain than from a downspout, thus reducing erosion in cases where downspouts drain onto soil or gravel.
Doesn’t Clog – Roof debris is less likely to get stuck in the gutter with a rain chain, which is a bonus. Since the downspout is eliminated, the question of debris in the downspout is gone.
Fills a Rain Barrel – A rain chain can add a bit of color and class to an otherwise dull-looking rain barrel. The chain does a fine job of putting water into the barrel.
Creates Ice Sculptures – I haven’t had the chain through a winter yet, but some people do leave them outdoors. They supposedly create some great ice and snow “sculptures.” Here is a bit of correspondence from Clayton Rosello at the company: “Many people leave their rain chains up during the winter. If they are properly installed, and the gutter is securely attached, they should work just fine. Many people send us pictures of their rain chains with lots of accumulated ice.” If a problem seems to be developing, the chains are very easily removed.
Placement is Important
Placement is everything, in my opinion. My single biggest concern with the rain chain is surface drainage. If placed where water can run into the house, it may create a problem—just as any open gutter flow might. This is easily addressed by placing it where water flows away from the house foundation or into a catchment such as a rain barrel or a swale.
During very heavy rain, the sound of rain on the pavement is greater than what you might hear from a downspout discharging on to pavement.
Also, if you plan to keep it outdoors for the winter in a colder climate, make sure it is placed where the frozen flow won’t invade sidewalks and driveways.
Finally, some authors on the Internet note that it is best placed on gutters that run less than 30’ (not a problem on my house) since more volume than that can produce a very wide flow over and around the chain. I have not seen any reports of chains breaking in the rain and certainly didn’t have that problem myself.
I give the Ichiban Cups rain chain a 5-shovel rating for an attractive, functional piece of garden art. The rain chain is an attractive addition to the foundation landscaping around my house, a nice corner accent in dry weather and a lively “water sculpture” when it rains. I have received many questions and complements from visitors who are thinking about getting a rain chain for their homes.
Where to Buy
I like the Ichiban cup model, but there are many other attractive models to choose from at Rain Chains Direct. This model is $84.95 with free shipping.
There are also many similar models on Amazon, including ones with verdigris or contemporary black finishes. But be sure that it’s 100% solid copper, not just copper coated.
I look forward to my first ice sculptures this year!
And now over to you – Have you tried using rain chains instead of a downspout? How did it work for you? Let us know in the comments below.