Do you need something as functional as rain gutter downspouts, but want something more aesthetically pleasing for your home? Consider rain chains! They’re an attractive alternative to traditional downspouts, yet equally as effective.
Rain gutters are used for a very important job. They divert water away from from the foundation of your home, preventing flooding. Without properly functioning rain gutters, water collects at the foundation of your home, which can cause water to seep in and flood the basement.
Lack of rain gutter protection can also cause foundation problems. As water from the roof pools onto the foundation below, it can erode the ground, creating cracks in the very foundation of your home. This can be incredibly expensive — repairs can start at $10,000 and can reach as high as $40,000.
If traditional rain gutters aren’t appealing to you, however, consider rain chains, as they are an equally effective alternative. They are as beautiful as they are functional, bringing delight to anyone who sees them.
What exactly is a rain chain? Rain chains originated in Japan, where they have been used for hundreds of years. Traditionally, they were associated with Japanese tea ceremonies. They adorned tea houses, and provided spiritual and auditory significance, as rainwater gently trickled down the links to collecting basins on the ground. Traditionally rain chains were made out of bamboo and wood, as tea masters preferred rustic aestheticism over formality.
More recently, rain chains have gained popularity in the United States. Homeowners, landscapers, gardeners, and designers love rain chains, and the emotion is easily understandable. They’re an elegant alternative to conventional gutter downspouts. They also accentuate the architecture and add to a home’s curb appeal. They turn the basic task of deflecting water away from a house into a graceful, multi-sensory water feature, adding charm and beauty.
A rain chain sits where there would normally be a downspout in the gutter system. Rain chains transport water from the roof of the gutter system onto the chain, or into a rain barrel or other type of storage container.
Not only is this an attractive arrangement, but with the right design it can create a soothing white noise as the water goes down its path. The soothing trickle of water gliding over the interlocking components produces a sense of tranquility and calm that Japan’s tea masters cherished. Another advantage of rain chains is that they’re much less likely to clog than traditional downspouts, as there’s no place for leaves or other debris to pass through.
Rain chains work by using surface tension. As previously mentioned, they attach to a gutter system in place of a downspout. As rainwater collects in the gutters and begins to drain, it naturally follows the path of least resistance and follows the chain down to the ground. This process slows down the water, reducing the associated energy, and thus reducing soil loss and erosion. If soil loss is a concern you have, cupped chains could be an option for you, as they will reduce the amount of splashback. Plain chains or loop chains will splash more, as they have less surface area to slow down the water.
Rain chains are available in a number of different materials. When choosing a material, remember that rain chains spend all their time out in the elements, and are routinely exposed to wind, rain, and sunlight. It’s important to choose a long-lasting material that’s appropriate for the level of rain in your area.
Copper rain chains are popular because they have a deep, rich color, and because they’re rust-resistant. They are available in a smooth or textured finish. Over time, copper rain chains oxidize, causing them to develop an elegant green patina, giving them a timeless look.
Brass and bronze rain chains are very strong and durable. These are copper-based alloys, so as with copper rain chains, they’ll develop a rich patina over time.
Stainless steel rain chains are heavy and sturdy, especially if they are thick. They perform well in windy areas that have lots of rain. Stainless steel is a look that goes well with contemporary architecture. Although it has a reputation for looking industrial, it can actually look quite elegant and stylish.
Aluminum rain chains are lightweight, and perform well in areas that are protected from the wind. They’re usually silver in color, and over time can develop a light patina.
Glass rain chains are very delicate, and are best for dry, protected spaces. They can look stunning, however, when the sunlight hits them at the right angles. They come in a variety of shapes, including beads and rocks.
Plastic rain chains are cheap, but they can easily be broken or damaged in the wind, and don’t hold up to heavy rainfall. They also don’t produce the nice ‘tinkling’ sound that metal rain chains do, and over time they can get moldy as they’re exposed to the outdoor elements.
Whatever material you choose, remember that it will age over time. Twice a year (typically when you’re cleaning the gutters), check the rain chain for any signs of wear and tear. Choose a material that does not require constant maintenance or replacement.
One tip when installing a rain chain is to set it up in such a way that it can be seen from inside your house. Unlike downspouts, which are usually set up to be hidden from the viewer, rain chains are meant to be showcased for all to view. Rain chains take an important but relatively boring and functional item, and turn it into true feature of the home.
Also remember to set up the rain chain in an area where there’s good drainage. As beautiful as they are, rain chains also need to perform a very important job, and without proper drainage, they can’t do that job effectively. Make sure that from wherever the rain chain drops the water, that water will then run away from the foundation of your home.
Keep in mind that the chain and rainwater will add weight to the eave. Water weighs a little over 8 lbs. per gallon. After installing the rain chain, look for signs of stress to the roof structure. If you notice any, remove the rain chain or provide reinforcement to avoid roof damage.
From time to time, check the condition of the ground around the chain for signs of erosion. If you notice any, add more rocks or a larger anchoring dish. Also, inspect the area to make sure that the water is draining. If you find any standing water, then additional considerations and effort will be needed to direct the water away from your home.
While not completely necessary, a rain barrel is also a good idea, as it helps you to save water. This is especially useful if you live in a dry climate, where water restrictions are in effect. The collected water can be used for irrigation of plants or flowers, for ‘gray’ water in a water sprinkler system, or for washing vehicles.
You can also enhance the look of your rain chain by decorating the area around it with attractive landscaping. Stones, plants, rocks, etc. can help give your rain chain a stunning look.
A rain chain is both fun and useful. Also, when used with other rainwater harvesting and best management practices, it has the potential to help reduce erosion, conserve water and add an aesthetically pleasing feature to your home.