How They Work

Rain chains were invented by the ancient Japanese to collect storm water for later use. They work in an almost magical way: Water slithers down the links from your roof to your yard, garden or collection barrel below. Typically made of copper, brass or aluminum, they range from simple chain-link styles to elaborately decorated cups, and they hang from your gutters in place of spouts.

The more surface area a chain has, the more rain it can handle. A single chain works well in light rains; two or three hung together work better in our denser deluges. But for those classic Portland bucket-dumps, the winner is the rain-cup chain, in which metal cups hanging vertically in a series empty the water, one into the next, to produce a pleasant babbling sound.

Installing Your New Chains

To get started, pick a downspout. Seeing and hearing the chain is important, but remember: While a tinkling chain is a pleasure to drink hot sake to, it can be Chinese water torture if you’re trying to fall asleep. You’ll also need to think about slope and drainage. Rainwater is best enjoyed when it drains away from your foundation.

Consider a front porch—the overhangs are usually large, and often there is no basement below. The chain is easy to see, inside and out.

Removing a downspout requires a screwdriver (for the metal screws); a ladder (to reach the highest ones); and an appreciation for how boring a square metal pipe really is.

Simply unscrew the downspouts from the top connection and install the bracket, which will hold the new chains. Off-the-shelf rain-chain kits come with one, but enterprising types can go homemade by bending a 12-inch steel rod (¼-inch diameter) into a “V” shape, keeping a few inches of the bar straight on each end. The straight pieces will sit on the inside of the gutter while the “V” protrudes downward through the drain hole, creating a place to hang the chains.