What is a Rain Chain: The Rainwater Harvesting Ornament

Why are people considering rain chains for rainwater collection? Read our guide to selecting and installing a rain chain for your rainwater harvesting system.

Updated: July 25, 2023
Jeremiah Zac


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Rainwater harvesting continues to prove to be one of the most practical and reliable methods that anyone can do to conserve water.

In areas with regular, heavy rainfall, every inch of rain that falls on a 1,000-square-foot roof can generate 600 gallons of water.

The traditional rainwater harvesting setup in areas with heavy rainfall requires a downspout to channel the water from the roof gutters to the container in which it is stored.

While rainwater harvesting systems are certainly beneficial in terms of water conservation, some might consider the large downspout to be inconsistent with the overall aesthetics of their home or garden.

For those who seek a more attractive but effective alternative to the drain pipes, the Rain Chain not only provides an ornamental aspect to any rainwater harvesting system but also adds a soothing sound as rain trickles down the copper links.

In this article, we'll cover:

  • What a rain chain is, and what its origins are
  • The benefits of using a rain chain in your rainwater harvesting system
  • The different types of rain chains available and how to select the best one
  • How to install a rain chain with your rain barrel
  • What are the best rain chains on the market today, and where can I purchase one?

Our Top Pick for Rain Chain - Beautiful, Secure
  • 8.5 feet long
  • Pure Copper

With 12 cups at 3" x 3" each, this rain chain is capable of directing a moderate amount of rain water into a rain barrel while beautifying the garden. Read more reviews end of the article.

Read Reviews on Amazon

Marrgin Rain Chain

What is a Rain Chain?

rain chain Link

The rain chain is an attractive and effective alternative to the traditional drain pipe – a major component of every rainwater harvesting system. The rain chain is simply a series of interlocking metal links that carry water from the roof gutters down into the storage container or rain barrel during rainwater harvesting.

Functioning exactly like a drain pipe, this chain is attached to the end of a roof gutter to gently channel rainwater run-off from the gutter down to the ground. Usually, they carry links, hollow cups, or funnels that produce a soothing sound as run-off hits them. This effective alternative to the conventional downspout can be easily integrated into a rainwater harvesting system by simply removing the downspout and replacing it with a chain.

In addition to offering an attractive alternative to the conventional drain pipe, they create a soothing sound that is pleasing to hear during a rain shower and a pleasant sight as the water trickles down the chain onto the ground or into a cistern or rain barrel.

Rain chains can be made up of different types of metal, including copper, bronze, iron, and aluminum, but copper is by far the most popular due to its resistance to rust.

History of Rain Chains

ancient japan

While the idea of a rain chain might seem relatively obscure to most of us, its history dates back centuries. Rain chains originate from Japan, where they have been used on temples and houses for hundreds of years. The Japanese refer to them as “kusari doi,” which translates into “chain gutter.”

The Japanese invented rain chains to collect and direct run-off into basins. While many today have incorporated the rain chain into the rainwater harvesting system, the traditional means of allowing the water to collect into a small basin was used for spiritual and auditory purposes, not for rain harvesting. Despite their different materials and styles, the molding of rain chains in Japan today is still being done by hand using copper.

Traditionally, these chains were associated with a Japanese tea ceremony. They were used to give spiritual meaning to the ceremony because of their ability to create a trickling water sound as the run-off water moves down the chain. In the Western world, rain chains are being used not only as an alternative to the traditional downspout but also as a method of traditional aesthetic decoration, especially in the field of architecture. It is also widely preferred to the conventional drain pipe because of the trickling sound it creates as water runs down the chain.

Despite all its side uses, the rain chain is most renowned for its use as a means of directing water from the roof into a cistern.

Benefits of Rain Chains


Incorporating the rain chain into your rainwater harvesting system has many reasons and benefits. These are:

  • Durable and Eco-friendly - Because most rain chains are made from copper, they are stronger and more durable when compared to other downspouts, usually made out of vinyl and plastic. In addition to their durability, copper, which is 100% recyclable, is the main material used in making rain chains. This makes rain chains an eco-friendly alternative to the traditional downspout as it can always be recycled. nature of copper
  • Effectiveness - In addition to their durability, rain chains are also very effective at harvesting rainwater run-off from roof gutters. While they may not be as effective as conventional downspouts when it comes to handling high amounts of rainfall, they can still direct moderate amounts of water effectively.

  • Attractiveness and Aesthetics - As has been mentioned above, rain chains make up for their inability to handle large volumes of water with their appealing and beautifying properties. They come in different shapes and styles and can be used as an additional layer of external allurement for your home. While most versions feature a series of interlocked copper chains, other more elaborate designs exist for those seeking to use it not only as a downspout.
  • Easy to install, cost-effective, and requires little maintenance - Rain chains are also very easy to install, especially because they hardly require any cutting or altering in any way. All they require is that you hang them in the place of the original downspout. It is, however, important to avoid making the fitting hole too big such that the water misses the chain. Also, they offer a cost-effective alternative to the conventional downspout because they do not require any altering and are durable. Rain chains also require little or no maintenance. Oxidization of copper chains only adds to the chain’s appeal as it doesn’t compromise its effectiveness and strength in any way.

Choosing the Perfect Rain Chain

rain chain

There exists a vast array of rain chains, each unique in material, quality, and style. It is, therefore, important to take your time when choosing your rain chain to avoid inconveniences later on. Here are some factors to consider when choosing the perfect rain chain.


Rain chains come in different shapes, styles, and materials. When purchasing a rain chain from a retailer, they usually come in two materials – copper and aluminum. However, depending on your taste and preferences, you can custom-design your own rain chain to meet your needs. Rain chains can be made from small terracotta pots, vintage spoons, buckets, keys, cookie cutters, and wire-wrapped rocks. The most important thing to take into consideration is how the design you create will suit your aesthetic and beauty needs. You might also want to consider the sound the rain chain will make when the run-off water flows down – especially if you are a sucker for symphonies.

Weight and Dimension

The next important factor to take into consideration is the size and dimension of your rainwater harvesting system. This includes knowing how much water (weight) your gutters can withstand. This would help you determine the weight and size of your rain chain, as you don’t want a rain chain whose weight exceeds the weight of the gutter. Adding such weight to the weight of the water in the gutters can cause your rainwater harvesting system to crash. It is, therefore, important to replace your drain pipe with a rain chain of equal or even lesser weight.

Another important factor when choosing your rain chain is the height of the chain. If you are using it as a part of your RWH system, then the ideal height for the rain chain would be that height which allows it to comfortably sit in or anchor to your cistern or barrel. If the rain chain is not being used as a component of a rainwater harvesting system, then it is also important to secure your rain chain on the ground to ensure efficiency

Storing Rain Water

Depending on the area in which you are and the volume of water you plan to harvest, having a cistern or other storage tank to store harvested rainwater is highly recommended. Depending on the type of rain chain you plan to use, your storage tank can be a barrel, galvanized tub, or stone drum with a hose inserted for easy use.


It is also important to consider the location of the rain chain before deciding on what design you want. This is because different designs have unique characteristics. For example, the cup rain chain rarely causes splashes as the water is captured by the cups on the chain. This makes this type of rain chain ideal for areas close to doors, windows, and walkways. In addition, considering the location is also important when choosing your rain chain. Areas with high winds or rainfall require heavier rain chains pinned to the storage tank to maximize efficiency.

Types of Rain Chains


Cup rain chains are the most widely used type of rain chain. They are especially popular in Japan, where rain chains originated. Here, the rain chain holds cups made out of the same material as the chain (copper or aluminum). These cups collect and hold the water running down the chain. Because of their ability to hold water, they create fewer splashes than other types and are ideal for areas near walkways, windows, and doors. Cups rain chains are able to hold more water than the other two types because the cups are able to contain more water. In addition, their length can easily be modified as cups can be removed or added whenever need arises. However, their ability to hold water also makes them susceptible to breakage since they can sometimes become too heavy.


Here, the chain features interlocked double rings which direct run-off water from the roof gutters to the storage tank or barrel. They are usually made from copper, aluminum, and plastic and tend to be relatively cheaper than the other two types. One major disadvantage of this type of rain chain is its tendency to splash a lot of water around its original trajectory. As such, they are ideal for areas not close to doorways, windows or walkways. Also, they are more difficult to adjust as shortening or lengthening may require some soldering.


Funnel rain chains are very effective especially when it comes to the channeling of water into a cistern or barrel. They are also more effective than the cup type. This is because, unlike the cup rain chain, funnel rain chains do not keep water. Instead, they allow constant flow of water down to the ground or into a barrel or storage tank. This makes them the ideal rain chain to be used in a rainwater harvesting system.

Installation and Set-up

Rain chains are relatively easy to install and don't require much time. Most rain chains are installed by simply hanging them in the place of the downspout being replaced. However, it is important to take into consideration the location of the rain chain. As mentioned earlier, rain chains should not be installed near doors, windows, or walkways. Also, for use in a rainwater harvesting system, they should be installed where they can be easily linked to the rain barrel or storage tank. It is important for the rain chain to sit inside the barrel or cistern to maximize efficiency. You can choose to add a leaf filter to capture and hold leaves, allowing only water to flow down the rain chain.

  1. Decide where the rain chain will be hung. It is practical to pick a location where a downspout already exists and remove the downspout.
  2. Most rain chains come with a gutter clip or gutter installer that will be placed where the downspout is connected to the gutter.
  3. Place the rain barrel directly underneath the gutter installer to determine how long the rain chain should be.
  4. Measure the rain chain and add or remove links to find the appropriate length.
  5. Attach the ran chain to the gutter installer and lead it into the rain barrel.

What are Some of the Best Chain Rains on Available for My Rainwater Harvesting System?

  • 8.5 Feet in Length
  • Pure Copper
  • 20 Links
  • Cup Size: 4.5" x 2.25"

Monarch Lotus Rain Chain

This 8.5 foot, pure copper rain chain features an intricate lotus flower design. With 20 cups at 4.5" x 2.25" each, this rain chain is capable of capturing and directing a moderate amount of rain into a rain barrel or basin. Monarch Rain Chains prides themselves in providing homeowners with a means of adding an architectural accent to the structure of the home with a stylish rain chain.

  • 8.5 Feet in Length
  • Pure Unfinished Copper
  • 10 Funnels
  • Funnel size: 3 1/8" x 3 1/4"

U-nitt Rain Chain

This funnel-style rain chain comes in the shape of 3 1/8" x 3 1/4" sized buckets. With 10 links on a 8.5 foot chain, this rain chain can handle a heavier amount of rainfall due to its funnel-like capabilities. The unfinished copper will allow for a nice patina-finish after a few weeks of rain.

  • 8 Feet in length
  • Pure Copper
  • 16 Funnels
  • Funnel size: 3.5" x 4.5"

Stanwood Rain Chain

The Stanwood Hummingbird Rain Chain features 16 funnels of pure copper, shaped into flowers with a hummingbird engraved into each one. Each funnel size is 3.5" x 4.5".

  • 8.5 Feet in Length
  • Pure Copper
  • 12 Links
  • Cup Size: 3" x 3"

Marrgin Rain Chain

Marrgon's pure copper cup is 8.5 feet in length and features 12 cups in total. Each cup is 3" x 3" in size. This simple design is effective at directing water into rain barrel and is a very beautiful addition to the outside of your home.

  • 8 Feet in Length
  • Copper Finish
  • 16 Links
  • Cup Size: 3.5" x 3.5"

AcuRite Rain Chain

AccuRite's copper finish gives these cups a high-gloss shine. At 8 feet in length and 16 cups per chain, this chain makes a great addition to any rainwater harvesting system.

  • 36" in length
  • Iron
  • 9 Links
  • Cup Size: 3.5" x 3.5"

Iron Dragonfly Rain Chain

This rain chain features an intricate dragonfly design on its iron cups. At 36" in length, this chain acts as an extension to a rain chain system. Two of these chains can be linked together to form a complete rain chain.


The efficiency of a rain chains in a Rain Water Harvesting system cannot be undermined. If properly installed, they can be as efficient as traditional downspouts, while also playing a beautifying and aesthetic role. They are cost-effective, less costly than gutters and make a pleasant trickling sound which is smooth and soothing to the ear. They are, however, not without fault as they are incapable of handling as much flow as a downspout and are less effective in areas with heavy rainfall accompanied by high winds. It is therefore important to consider all the factors mentioned above in order to make a choice that fits your needs.

Thank you for taking the time to read our article on answering the question: What is a rain chain? We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments section below. If you've found this article to be useful and are interested in learning more, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

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Rain Barrel Guide. (2017, February 26). How Much Water Can You Collect in Rain Barrels During a Rainfall. Retrieved from http://www.rainbarrelguide.com/how-much-water-can-you-collect-in-rain-barrels-during-a-rainfall/

Rain Barrel. (n.d.). Rain Chain | Rainwater Harvesting Guide. Retrieved from http://www.rain-barrel.net/rain-chain.html

Slatalla, M. (2018, February 7). Hardscaping 101: Rain Chains - Gardenista. Retrieved from https://www.gardenista.com/posts/hardscaping-101-rain-chains/

Tree People. (n.d.). How to Set Up a Rain Chain. Retrieved from https://www.treepeople.org/sites/default/files/pdf/resources/How-to%20Install%20a%20Rain%20Chain.pdf

I'm Jeremiah, the owner of World Water Reserve. I'm a writer and researcher with a particular interest in sustainability and rural living, water scarcity, and innovative water purification methods. I utilize my multimedia and communication experience in the NGO and humanitarian fields to bring light to important topics. My passion is to educate others on the reality of the global water crisis and on ways to sustain themselves and their families in the midst of it.
Jeremiah Zac