Burial Vault Basics

If you’ve read articles about green funerals, you might wonder why a vault is needed for a casket. Many cemeteries in the U.S. and in Canada require the casket to be enclosed in a burial vault or vault with grave liner. Then again, many cemeteries do not require them, so it’s up to you to shop around.

Vaults usually consist of a lined and sealed concrete unit specifically engineered to support the weight of the earth above as well as any heavy equipment – like mowers – that pass over it. They also keep a grave from sinking from the weight of earth, machinery and even from the weight of tombstones, as shown here.

Usually, most caskets cannot bear the weight of earth and equipment. The concrete vault, which is reinforced, is designed to support this weight and more. Concrete usually becomes stronger with age as it continues to cure within the ground. Water-resistant, lined burial vaults are made to withstand impact and moisture. While caskets settle in the ground over time, the burial vault is designed to hold that casket in place without shifting and without damage to the casket.

Burial vaults vary in price, function and the material from which they are made. For instance, a grave box is the most basic burial vault. These also are made from concrete, they are unlined, and they have holes in the bottom to allow water to flow through freely. The most expensive burial vault is the lined burial vault, which offers the greatest protection for the casket.

If you choose cremation, urn vaults are available. Once again, the most protection from heavy machinery and moisture would be the lined and reinforced urn vault. Urn vaults usually are reinforced with durable plastic or with a combination or plastic and metal.

Finally, you also can order a plastic burial vault that is non-biodegradable with a 100-year warranty. This vault, made by Polyguard and Co. is “environmentally safe, non-pourous and water resistant” with long-term protection. These vaults can be personalized with photographs and artwork. According to the site, the plastic can be less expensive than concrete. Known as “Thermoplastic Graveliners,” the U.S. Veterans Administration has been purchasing these liners for years.

Burial vaults can vary wildly in price, from as little as $200 to upwards of $10,000. The purchase that most practically fills this need is a concrete grave liner that need not cost any more than $400 (although a basic plastic vault also may cost that little as well). While a few states require burial vaults, sometimes the funeral home may neglect to tell you that you may not need a burial vault or grave liner. In all cases, you can shop around for a cemetery that doesn’t require them if this is not your idea of eternal bliss.

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