Four Downspout Alternatives

When it rains, it pours. But where does that rain go after it hits your roof? Proper drainage is critical to your roof and home’s health and functionality. Downspouts are the most obvious option for directing water off your roof and away from your home’s foundation. These are the metal tubes that run down the side of a building, carrying water to the ground. Downspouts are often painted the same color as a house or its trim to make them blend into the building. They aren’t unsightly, but no one would ever call them beautiful, either. There are several alternatives if you are looking for options other than traditional downspouts. A roof service company can install most of them.

Depending on your situation, switching out your downspouts for something else may put beauty before functionality, leading to expensive damage. Be sure you understand the pros and cons of the other options. Here are four downspout alternatives and the factors you need to consider before swapping your downspouts for other means of drainage.

1. Rain Chains

If you are looking for a rain drainage option that is charming and pleasant to look at, you may be drawn to rain chains. A rain chain is a series of linked metal pieces that hang from your roof line. They take advantage of the cohesive properties of water to draw runoff down the chain and to the ground below. They often have chimes or bells integrated into the chain. The flowing water activates these elements, creating a gentle, pleasing sound.

While rain chains work for light rains, they can not handle large volumes of water. They also hang straight down, meaning the water is not carried out and away from your home. That can lead to expensive water damage to your foundation over time.

While rain chains are quaint and whimsical, they can’t entirely replace downspouts unless you live in an area with minimal rainfall. Rain chains are only an effective solution to significant water runoff if paired with a more traditional system of gutters and downspouts.

2. Rain Barrels

A rain barrel is exactly what it sounds like: a large drum used to collect rainwater. Because water goes into the barrel, it never reaches your foundation. That means it can’t damage your home. However, if you want to avoid downspouts because you dislike how they look, a rain barrel isn’t the solution. To channel water into the barrel, you still need downspouts. These pipes run into the barrel rather than to the ground. You will have shorter downspouts, but they will still be there.

In some cases, you can pair a rain chain with a barrel, but you will need something to guide the rain into the drum. And you will add a large barrel, or several, to your property, which isn’t exactly subtle. If streamlined appearance is your goal, skip the rain barrel.

One fantastic advantage of rain barrels is that instead of letting the water run off into your lawn, you collect it. You can then use that water for watering your plants or grass during dry periods.

You do need to monitor your rain barrel and periodically empty it. If it fills up, water will spill out or potentially damage the barrel. A full barrel can no longer collect water, making it ineffective against additional runoff. Because rain barrels contain a large volume of water, they can be cumbersome when full, making emptying them safely away from your foundation difficult.

3. Copper Pipes

Traditional downspouts are aluminum, usually painted to match or coordinate with the color of your house. Copper pipes are an alternative to these conventional downspouts. They function similarly, capturing water and channeling it down and away from your foundation.

Copper is sturdier than aluminum, making it less likely to get dented or torn by falling branches, misguided car bumpers, kids’ basketballs, or other hazards. When first installed, copper pipes have a rich, bronze-like color. Over time and with exposure to the elements, they develop an attractive greenish patina.

Copper pipes are more expensive than traditional aluminum downspouts but offer an alternative aesthetic.

4. French Drains

A French drain deals with water after it has reached the ground rather than directing the water as it falls. French drains are trenches dug around the foundation of your home. Perforated pipes sit at the bottom of the trench. Then, the area is filled with gravel and sand. Water quickly soaks through the porous filling and drips or runs into the pipe. The pipes slope to direct the water through them and away from your foundation.

French drains can handle large volumes of water, making them effective in areas with frequent torrential rain. The French drain can manage any overflow from your gutters. However, french drains are expensive to install. They also don’t direct runoff from your roof. This lack of directed flow means areas over doors or windows could have spillage, creating a hazard for people coming and going during a storm.

French drains also create the potential for splashback. As water from the roof or gutters hits the ground, it can splash onto your home, potentially damaging your siding.

Most people install french drains as an additional line of defense rather than a replacement for downspouts.


Yes, we are back to downspouts. If you are looking for an efficient drainage option that can handle large volumes of water and reliably route runoff where it needs to be, you can’t beat a traditional downspout. There’s a reason downspouts are the standard for drainage and the most common option roofers and homeowners use. Resist the urge to choose a quirky or pretty option over something that functions well for your roof, home, and foundation.

If you are absolutely determined to use something other than traditional downspouts, think carefully about your weather, the maintenance requirements of different options, and your budget. You may find that your best option still includes traditional downspouts. Pairing them with some of these alternatives to improve your runoff-management system and the appearance of your home might be the right compromise. If you need help determining the best rainwater drainage system for your home, residential roofing companies can help you weigh the pros and cons of traditional downspouts and the alternatives.

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