What's a Grave Liner? And How Do They Work?


To understand what a grave liner is, you first must understand a bit about the burial process. In this article, let’s talk about what happens when a casket is buried in a cemetery. You'll also learn how a grave liner fits into the equation and how they compare with burial vaults.

Jump ahead to these sections:

What’s the most important thing you need to know about grave liners? The short answer: It’s whether you need to purchase one and how much it costs. We will also discuss where to purchase grave liners or burial vaults. 

That's a lot of ground to cover! Let's get started.

What's a Grave Liner?

Even though caskets are not typically buried six feet underground (which the common saying suggests), the soil that is placed on top of the casket is heavy. The weight of the dirt, plus the weight of the cemetery's mowers and maintenance equipment, may cause the coffin to collapse. The ground would cave in above your loved one's burial spot. 

A casket's collapse causes many problems, but the most obvious problem is that it would be emotionally upsetting for most people involved. Imagine visiting your loved one's burial spot to see the ground caved in and the headstone sitting sideways. The collapse may also cause the grave marker to crack or break, and they are expensive to replace.

The collapse would also cause the ground to be uneven, making walking through the cemetery unsafe. 

Also, the uneven surface would make it difficult to grow grass. Filler soil would need to be brought in, and the surface would either need to be sodded or covered with grass seed. This disruption would make the cemetery unattractive to visitors. 

These are some of the main reasons that grave liners are required in most cemeteries. A grave liner is a concrete structure that protects the casket from collapse. It does not protect the casket from all elements because soil and water can go through the porous concrete grave liner. A grave liner simply ensures that the earth's weight doesn't cause the coffin to break. 

A grave liner solves the problem of a potential casket collapse, but a grave liner isn't your only option. Let's discover other products that would keep a casket from collapsing.

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What's the Difference Between a Grave Liner and a Burial Vault?

Burial vaults provide a seal around a casket to protect it from exposure to all the elements. They typically have a polymer liner, which keeps water from seeping inside and surrounding the casket.

The lid is often sealed to the base to prevent elements from seeping in at the seam. Burial vaults often come with a warranty, which gives family members peace of mind that their loved one's casket will remain dry and protected from having contact with soil and water. 

On the other hand, a grave liner's only purpose is to keep the casket from collapsing and the surrounding ground from sinking. Although they are typically made of concrete, you may also find some made of plastic or metal. They have drainage holes in the bottom so that the groundwater surrounds the casket. This means that the liner will never come up out of the ground due to a rising water table, will break down over time, and does not come with a warranty.

Grave liners are less expensive than burial vaults. You can purchase both grave liners and burial vaults based merely on their protective value — you can also buy decorative burial vaults as well.

You may be wondering which item you should buy for your eventual burial or the burial of your loved one. Most cemeteries require that you purchase one or the other. If both are allowed, the choice is based on personal preference and your budget.

  • You may want to preserve the body for as long as possible, and you can do this through embalming, purchasing a casket with a gasket, and a sealed burial vault.
  • On the other hand, you may like the idea of having the casket and the body in contact with the earth. You may feel comforted being reminded that we are "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." This group of people may choose a grave liner over a burial vault because they know their loved one's bodies will become part of the earth faster this way. 

Grave liners are also a more economical choice. 

How Do You Know if You Need a Grave Liner?

Most cemeteries require either a grave liner or burial vault to keep the cost of cemetery maintenance down. This requirement is typically not based on local or state laws. 

You may be able to find some cemeteries near you that do not have this requirement, but it is relatively rare. Old rural cemeteries or green cemeteries may not require the use of a grave liner or vault. You may also consider a home burial if you own a significant amount of land and it’s allowed by your local laws. 

Grave liners may also be called grave receptacles, concrete boxes, or rough boxes. Burial vaults may also be called lined vaults. Look for this wording in the cemetery contract to understand whether or not they are required.

If you choose to bury an urn of your loved one's cremains, you may also need to purchase a vault. Some urns are sturdy enough as to not need additional reinforcements, but other urns must first be placed in a vault before burial. Vaults for urns can be purchased from an online retailer. 

Your local funeral home or the cemetery staff will also inform you of this requirement. In our research, most cemeteries insist on this added purchase. 

How Much Do Grave Liners Cost?

Burial vaults may start at $700 and go up to several thousand dollars, depending on the type of vault. A grave liner's average price is around $400. 

If you are thinking about the approximate cost of a burial, you also need to factor in the price of the cemetery plot, the cost to open and close the grave, the price of the casket, and the purchase of a headstone. You may also have additional costs associated with graveside services. 

How Can You Customize a Grave Liner?

You don’t typically customize a grave liner, but you may customize a grave vault.

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Layers of protection

One of the ways you can customize a grave vault is by adding layers of protection. Entry-level grave vaults may come with a single liner and have a painted finish. As the grave vaults increase in price, the manufacturers may use a combination of plastic, concrete, and metal to provide the greatest protection for your loved one’s casket. 


One of the most basic ways to customize a grave vault is by choosing its color. But, of course, custom color options may not be available for every type of grave vault. 

Some higher-priced grave vaults are made from stainless steel, bronze, or copper. You may be able to alter the color of accent pieces and hardware to customize those higher-priced options. 

Interior Design Options

Even though most grave vaults have the same basic shape, you can add details to the interior of the lid to personalize the vault. For example, some companies allow you to add a relief of a chapel window or cross on the lid’s interior. Other companies enable you to add a photograph or series of pictures to the interior of the burial vault lid.

Exterior Design Options

While you can add designs to the inside of the burial vault, it’s more common to add photos, engravings, or appliques to the outside of your loved one’s burial vault. These can appear on the sides or lid of the vault.

The designs may be simple and elegant, such as an engraved cross and the deceased’s name on the stainless steel, bronze, or copper burial vault lid. You can also choose to add one or several color photographs that depict special moments in your loved one’s life. Some burial vault companies have pre-made images to choose from that include scenes from nature or represent your loved one’s beliefs or hobbies. 

Finally, some grave vaults are made with removable tokens, which family members and friends can remove from the vault before the burial is complete. 

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How Do You Choose the Right Grave Liner?

Most of the time, grave liners are chosen based on budget, personal preference, and availability.

Suppose you are saying goodbye to someone and you have a limited budget. In that case, you may not have the option of purchasing a customized burial vault personalized with engravings and appliques. Instead, you may choose a less expensive grave liner that fulfills the requirements of the cemetery.

Some families want to protect their loved one’s casket and body from the elements for as long as possible, and they will purchase more durable caskets and burial vaults for their loved one’s burial. Other families may be comfortable with their loved one’s remains returning to the earth as quickly as possible and may select burial options that promote this process.

While it is common to purchase caskets through online stores, it is not as common to shop online for grave liners and burial vaults. Ask the cemetery staff about the available options. You might discover that the cemetery only offers a handful of liner or vault options. 

Unless you pay close attention to every detail of the burial process, you might purchase a basic grave liner for your loved one’s burial without even realizing it, especially if you are in a fog caused by grief. Look carefully to see if it is in the itemized list of items and services you purchased. 

If you are OK with the most basic option, you might want to compare grave liner prices with the funeral home and cemetery. One may be less expensive than the other. 

Where Can You Buy a Grave Liner?

You can purchase grave liners and burial vaults from the funeral home or cemetery. 

If you are interested in buying a burial vault, you may have a few more options to consider. The more expensive the vault, the more reinforcement power is promised. In fact, they are rated by how many pounds of pressure they are able to withstand. 

You may also purchase a decorative burial vault, some that include commemorative items. Before the vault is buried, the family members can remove commemorative tokens from the vault's exterior to keep in memory of their loved one. 

Grave liners do not come with as many options. The cemetery or funeral home may have only one or two choices available for purchase. One option is usually a grave liner box. There may be another option that only has three sides. The bottom is left open, so the casket comes in contact with the soil beneath it. 

Although you may be able to purchase a grave liner from an online store, most simplify the purchase by adding it to the cemetery or funeral home bill. Some websites say that cemetery prices are typically less expensive than funeral home prices, but you need to check the cost in your local area to see if this is true.

Other Costs to Consider 

The average cost of a funeral ranges from $7,000 to $12,000. There are some ways to lower the costs if you have a limited budget.

You may consider doing a little comparison shopping to make sure you get the lowest price available on the casket. Caskets can be purchased online. Make sure you figure in shipping and rush delivery charges when you compare the cost.

You may also limit the number of services for your loved one. Instead of having a visitation, funeral, and graveside service, you may combine some of the services. 

You may also consider donating your loved one's body to a medical school. After the body is studied, the school typically pays for it to be cremated. They will return your loved one's cremains to you for burial, entombment, or scattering.

If you are worried about the funeral budget, you may consider cremation. Cremation, especially a direct cremation, is often the least expensive end-of-life option. Although you can bury cremated remains in a cemetery, this involves an additional expense. 

Finally, depending on your preferences, you could also purchase a grave liner instead of a burial vault. Even though grave liners are typically the less expensive option, make sure you’re comfortable knowing that they do not protect the casket from water and other elements.

If you're looking for more resources about burial, read out guides on how water burials work and how direct burials work.

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