Rain Chains

Rain chains are a creative alternative to the traditional downspout. They originated in Japan hundreds of years ago. Rain chains have gained popularity in the United States to replace the traditional downspouts. Rain chains can range in design from simple to decorative. When used for purely functional purposes, the rain chain is literally a chain that hangs from the eave of the house. When going for a more appealing look, a more elaborate design is used.
Rain chains are connected to gutters or eaves in place of a downspout. When it starts to rain, the water collects in the gutters, follows the path of least resistance, and follows the chain down to the ground. Rain chains slow the flow of water down and reduce soil loss and erosion. Cupped chains help reduce the amount of splashback and reduce soil loss. Loop chains or plain chains will splash more because these chains have less surface area to slow the water down.
Both downspouts and rain chains direct water away from the root to a desired location. Rain chains will direct water to rain barrels, landscaped beds, or other water features. Best practices for using a rain chain include incorporating the rain chain into a water feature or directed into a rain barrel. Water collected from rain barrels can be used for non-potable water uses like irrigation of landscape beds or filling a bird bath.
Finding the correct location for a rain chain is important. Ideal locations include places the gutter system may leak or to replace an existing downspout. If your home does not have a gutter system, identify areas where the water naturally concentrates, like where roof lines come together at the corner of the home.
Rain chains can be made of different types of metals. Aluminum is lightweight and can be used in areas with little wind. Galvanized steel is a heavier chain and is better suited for areas of high winds.
An attractive rain chain for a single-story home can be made from 9 galvanized pails, 9 feet of 1/2” chain, 2 large S hooks, 9 small S hooks, pliers, and a 1/2” drill bit. The small S hooks will attach to the handle of each pail (use pliers to secure hook). Drill a 1/2” hole through the bottom of each pail. Guide the chain through the pails and leave about 8 inches between the pails. Connect each pail to the chain using the open end of the S hook on the handle. Attach the large S hooks to the top and bottom of the chain. The large bottom S hook will need to be secured to an anchoring dish, pot, or rain barrel.
Whatever kind of rain chain you choose, you will need to attach it to the gutter or eave of your home. Use an anchoring dish or planter pot to prevent the chain from swinging in the wind and to catch the water that comes down from the chain. Dig a depression 6 inches deep below the center of where the anchoring dish will be. Fill the hole with ? inch drainage rock, place the anchoring dish on top, and secure the chain to the dish. The drainage rock will prevent water form pooling when it overflows the walls of the dish and allows it to infiltrate the soil without eroding the areas around the chain. A nice added touch is to cover the drainage rock with a few river stones to disguise the attachment point.
Remember to check the rain chain for wear and tear at least twice a year (this can be done when cleaning gutters, which should be done twice a year as well). Check the condition of the ground around the anchoring chain for signs of erosion. If needed, add more rock or a larger anchoring dish.
For more information on rain chains, please visit the Home and Garden Information Center website at hgic.clemson.edu. Tune in on Tuesday nights to watch “Making it Grow” at 7pm on SCETV or mig.org. Email Outen at callenb@clemson.edu.
Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.

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