One of the most common questions we receive is “are rain chains really a good replacements for gutter downspouts?” We often get this question from homebuilders, roofers and gutter installers who are new to rain chains (never having installed them) and have a client who wants them installed instead of downspouts. The short answer is not only “yes,” but that they are in most cases a superior choice. Of course the writer of this article is a bit biased writing for Rain Chains Direct, however the good news is that it is absolutely true. In this article I will explain the reasons why.
To understand how rain chains can be a superior choice to conventional gutter downspouts it is first helpful to understand the function of them in the first place. The rainwater that falls on a roof must be managed so that it falls off of the roof in a controlled manner. This is so that it does not get too close to the foundation and also so that it remains clear of falling over the threshold points for entering and exiting the structure. In order to accomplish this gutters and downspouts are placed along the edges of the roof to capture the runoff. The size of the roof will determine the frequency of downspouts that are needed. Rain chains fulfill the purpose of the downspout by acting as the conduit through which water travels from the gutter lining the roof to the ground or catchment system below.
If water were to simply fall out of a hole in the gutter without a downspout to lead it to the ground (and most often an elbow at the bottom to direct it away from the foundation and to mitigate the impact of the falling water) then the falling water would be more likely to cause erosion at the point it hits the ground not to mention the uncontrolled manner in which the water would be exiting the gutter. Downspouts of course solve this problem.
Rain chains fulfill the same purpose but also with some added benefits as well. Both link and cup style chains break the flow of water as it is guided to the ground so that the impact is mitigated (as in the case of the elbow at the bottom of the downspout). Downspouts are often run from the gutter then back closer to the structure before they make their run downward until the elbow takes the exiting water away from the structure again. This type of installation makes sense both structurally and aesthetically because downspouts are usually not something that most people want that visible – so the more it can be hidden from plain sight, the better. However rain chains are different in this respect.
Rain chains don’t need to be hidden because they are made to be seen – in other words they are far more attractive than conventional spouts. Far from detracting from the look of the gutter system, they most often complement the look of the structure. And because they are designed to channel the water straight down from the gutter hole, they don’t need to be routed back closer to the structure on their way back down to the ground. Because they are already (typically) set apart from the structure at the point of exit from the gutter, they don’t need to be carried away from it such as in the case of a downspout that is attached to the side of the structure. In cases where the overhang of the gutter is not set far enough apart from the structure, a splash block can be used to carry away the water at the point at which it meets the ground.
Often the questions is raised as to whether the chain causes excess splashing. Although rain chains do have a certain amount of splashing due to the fact that they are an open system, the splashing should not be any more excessive than the exit point of a conventional downspout, given there are adequate exit points for the size of the roof.
So, rain chains ultimately not only fulfill the same functions of the conventional downspout, but they also have the added benefit of accenting the overall look of the architecture. The clear trend in new construction is toward a greater use of rain chains in lieu of downspouts. Every indication is that this trend will continue to grow.