Rain Chain vs. Downspout: What Are the Differences?

Today’s homeowners often focus on the unique rather than traditional. As a gutter contractor, you may encounter a homeowner who has decided they want rain chains instead of downspouts.

Rain chains have become a popular alternative to downspouts, and once your client has become charmed with the idea, you’ll need to be prepared to point out the pros and cons of rain chains and why traditional downspouts are better suited to directing the flow of water. In the rain chain versus downspout debate, the advantages are on the side of traditional downspouts — let’s find out more.

What Is a Rain Chain?

As an installer, a rain chain might not be top-of-brain knowledge. In short, a rain chain is a decorative alternative to a downspout. They had their beginning hundreds of years ago in Japan and were called Kusari Doi. Nowadays, they are available in many configurations, but the commonality between the variations is the chain feature. There can be cups attached, hoops in the chain or any other metallic or plastic design element you can think of.

The purpose is to make the water leaving the gutter run down the chain to the ground. They are trendy because they are aesthetically pleasing to the home’s design and are a unique addition to the traditional gutter system.

How Do They Work?

Rain Chain vs Downspout Main Differences

There is nothing too technical about the operation of a rain chain. Slow-moving water leaving the gutter naturally clings to the chain due to surface tension, dripping along the links until it reaches the ground. The device is usually tethered with a stake to keep heavy winds from blowing it around, and they are often attached to buckets or barrels, allowing homeowners to trap the water and reuse it for gardening needs.

Downfalls of Rain Chains

Although these gutter additions are attractive and unique, their disadvantages end up outweighing their good qualities.

During a drizzle, the chain might perform okay, but during heavy rainfall, the flow of water will quickly overcome the chain's ability to direct it, and water will go everywhere — just as if you had no downspout. Because the water cannot be directed, it could cause ample puddling or flooding, putting the structure’s foundation at risk. And if you don’t like the sound of trickling water, these are not an ideal solution, as you will hear water passing along the chain.

If wind accompanies the rain, water in the rain chains could be blown back onto the house, defeating their purpose. The wind can even unanchor them at the top or bottom if not properly anchored. Having to replace these, especially during a storm, is a major inconvenience.

Because of their design, rain chains are awkward to install on multi-story homes. The chain would have to be extra long to reach from the gutter to the ground, meaning the water would have to travel a longer distance. This makes it even more difficult for the water to reach a designated area, and it would be ineffective.

In addition, a special adapter must be installed on the opening of the gutter to flow water to the chain. This opening is substantially smaller than the amount of water that the gutter can hold. During a heavy rain, the gutters may back up and overflow, causing damage to the structure of the home.

Traditional Downspouts

Downspout vs Rain Chain

Downspouts are aluminum or vinyl tubes that extend from the gutter to the ground or to another roof level. Their purpose is to direct the flow of water, allowing the gutter to properly control the water output. It can flow to a splash block or other means of collection to keep the water from eroding the soil and damaging the homes’ foundation.

Downspouts Are Tailored To The Home’s Size

Downspouts are available in various sizes depending upon the square footage of the roof on the home. Even a light rain can produce a large amount of water, so it is important to ensure gutters and downspouts are working properly.

For example, an average 1,200 square foot home would have about 1,500 square feet of roof. For every inch of rain that falls, the gutters would receive about 840 gallons of water that must be safely directed away from the home.

Correctly sized downspouts and gutters will safeguard the residence by making sure all the water leaving the roof is channeled away from the home when it reaches the ground.

Downspouts Will Match the Rest of the Gutter System

Rain chains may be decorative, but they will not completely match the material of the installed gutters, and they cannot be engineered to any performance standards. A proper installation of gutters and downspouts will include sizing the components to ensure they will operate as designed in most rain and snow scenarios.

Alsco® Metals Manufactures Professional Grade Gutter Systems

The end of a tan aluminum downspout.

All in all, traditional downspouts are the best way to keep your soil and foundation safe from rainwater buildup. Downspouts can be made to match the rest of a home and can bring quality aesthetics to designs while properly directing water flow.

At Alsco, our rainware systems have been designed to stand up to the harshest weather conditions. Our rainware products are made of high-quality aluminum, are easy to clean and resist scratches, dents and fading. We offer a perfect trim plus package that ensures your soffit, fascia and rainware match, and homeowners can choose from over 20 different colors to get the perfect look.

Want more information on our rainware systems or want to find out about our other aluminum and vinyl products? Feel free to contact us today.