Last summer when we were staying in the Alps I noticed that our idyllic chalet-hotel had an intriguing alternative to traditional downpipes. Instead of solid black pipes to transport the rainwater from gutter to drain it had simple, chunky chains. Not only did they add interest but they were completely mesmerising when it rained because they created a temporary waterfall (with all the sound effects) as the chain guided the water to the ground.
It got me thinking as to whether they’d work on our new extension. Since we’re incorporating a generous overhang on the flat roof, I can position the rain chains sufficiently far from the walls to prevent splash back and I think they’ll add interest and a lightness to the facade. If I manage to find reclaimed chains or ones made out of recycled metal then I’ll be being truly eco but just by using less metal than a solid downpipe they’re semi-eco!
Rain chains have been used in Japan for hundreds of years and they’ve been steadily incorporated into US architecture. They’re less common in the UK, probably because we don’t have as many covered decks, but I think it’s only a matter of time, especially with the trend of incorporating industrial elements into residential architecture.
This picture from the gardens of the National Museum of Tokyo makes me want to reach out and touch the chain.
I love this look below but I worry a little about where the water’s draining to? It can’t be in a country that gets as much rain as the UK.
In terms of style, I’m a fan of the minimalist look achieved from a simple, galvanised steel chain. Presumably this is a cheap option too because how difficult can it be to buy a 3m length of steel chain? I also love the look of copper or rusty iron.
One thing I do need to think about is what happens at the bottom of the chain. I definitely need to secure it to the ground so it doesn’t swing ominously on a windy winter’s night and freak us all out. But then, I could either have it discharging into a normal drain or even more sustainable is to create a soak-away – a pit filled with stones which allows the water to soak slowly into the surrounding soil.
Rain chains into water butts or planting features look great and help conserve water.