Downspouts and gutters, when clean and maintained, perform an amazing service for you at a relatively low cost. Rainwater cascades down the roof, hits the gutters, gets whisked to the nearest downspout, then courses to the ground. This saves your foundation and siding from ruin.
One problem: they tend to be fairly unattractive. Little thought is given to aesthetics when manufacturing these powder-coated steel tubes; function is the only thing in mind. Are there alternatives that look better and maybe even work better?
Downspout alternatives such as rain chains, inverted bells, and cups direct water in a more or less straight line to the ground or collection container. Some are literally chains. Others are a series of linked vertical cups, performing the same function as the chain-style ones.
- All alternatives replace downspouts entirely.
- They must be anchored at ground-level to prevent swaying.
- They lead to a collection point, whether a gravel-filled pit, barrel, or diversion device that channels water away from foundation.
- It often helps to have multiple chains that allow for better water direction.
- Done right, downspout alternatives rise beyond mere functionality and become an artistic touch that graces your home.
- Rain chains place style over function. Nothing can be more effective for directing water than the fully enclosed tube of a conventional downspout.
- Alternative downspouts are often touted as green and eco-friendly. Yet they are no more green than conventional downspouts. In fact, since they divert less water into rainwater tanks for the purpose of water harvesting, they may be considered slightly less green.
- At the ground-level end point, downspouts can lead directly into a diversion tube, effectively moving water as far away from the house as you wish. Alternatively, downspouts can run into concrete, plastic, or recycled rubber splash blocks, moving water more than three feet away. While rain chains can move water into tanks, it is difficult to accurately aim the water into diversion devices.
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Single Rain Chain
This type of rain chain is about as simple as it gets. All items are available at your local hardware or home improvement stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Ace, or Menards.
Begin with a minimum of 1/4 inch sized chain and cut to length so that it reaches from the gutter to the ground, with about one foot of chain draping on the ground.
If you want the modern look or just don't like rust, use a zinc-plated chain. It will remain shiny through the ages, as long as the plating is undisturbed.
Single chains are the worst for effectively directing water downward, but they are the least obtrusive.
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Hammered Copper Rain Cups
Shining and dancing with light, these copper "inverted umbrella" cups are hand-hammered to lend rich texture to the surface. Beyond the visual appeal, these wider types of "chains" do a better job of keeping falling water on the vertical.
Rain cups can be rather expensive, especially when multiplied several times over to accommodate all downspout areas. But they are most likely to elicit murmurs of admiration from your guests.
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Rain Chain Cups and Barrel
This is a solution to two problems. Rain cups descend from the gutter to direct rainwater into a barrel. The barrel prevents water from pooling around the foundation or, worse, blasting between the foundation and earth like a fire hose—a major cause of crawlspace flooding.
Adding the rain barrel to the chains will certainly make this set-up green and eco-friendly. Water that normally would have been wasted can be collected in barrels and sent to garden beds by tubes. Rainwater collection and usage is a major cornerstone for developing a net-zero water use home.
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Multiple Rain Chains Mean Better Flow
Grouping rain chains is another quick and simple way to replace your downspouts. Keep the existing gutters and run the chains through the hole at the end of the gutter.
This owner formed a circle out of stiff wire (not visible) to keep the chains separated within the rain gutter.
Because gutters are formed from thin sheet metal and often not secured attached to the home's fascia, you should be cautious about loading them up with too much weight when you add multiple chains.