Half-Couch vs. Full-Couch Casket: What’s the Difference?

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Knowing how to plan a funeral is an important life skill for many. There may come a time in your life when you need to make funeral arrangements after a loved one’s passing. Although the experience is never truly easy, preparation can make it somewhat easier.

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When planning a funeral, you’ll need to make several key decisions. Choosing a casket is one of them. Thus, it helps to be familiar with the two main types of caskets: half-couch caskets and full-couch caskets.

Neither is the “better” option in general. This is a personal choice, and the right casket for one person might not be right for another. That said, because these types differ from one another in a single major way, you might want to learn more about their features. This guide will answer your questions.

Overview: Half-Couch vs. Full-Couch Caskets

A half-couch casket and full-couch casket can look very similar. The key difference is that a full-couch casket displays the full body of the deceased, while a half-couch casket will typically only display their head and upper body. Most half-couch caskets technically can display a full body, but mourners rarely use them this way, as there’s no real point in doing so.

The following table will help you better understand the basic differences (and similarities) between the two:

Factors

Full-couch casket

Half-couch casket

Cost

The average cost of a full-couch casket is somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000.

The cost of a half-couch casket of the same size and material as a full couch casket will usually be about the same. However, some people choose to display a “spray” of flowers on the bottom half of a half-couch casket. This can increase the overall cost. On the other hand, a half-couch casket may be a more affordable option than a full-couch casket if the standard size is too short for someone’s body. Instead of spending more on a longer casket, a family can purchase a standard-sized half-couch casket. The funeral directors may bend the knees or make similar lower-body adjustments to fit a tall person into a basic half-couch casket.

Use

Although a full-couch casket can display a body, it might be a choice for a closed casket funeral.

The only reason to use a half-couch casket is if someone is planning an open-casket funeral.

Who

Anyone planning a funeral may choose a full-couch casket.

Because a half-couch casket is ideal when a family is planning an open-casket funeral, in faiths that prohibit open-casket funerals, members may not consider half-couch caskets.

Size

The standard full-couch casket is 84 inches long, 28 inches wide, and 23 inches tall.

The standard size of a half-couch casket is the same as that of a full-couch casket.

What’s a Half-Couch Casket?

A half-couch casket is actually the most common type of casket available in most parts of the world today. Its defining feature is its lid that consists of two separate pieces. This allows a family holding a wake or viewing to keep only the top half open, allowing mourners to see the deceased’s face and upper body. That said, half-couch casket lids still give you the option to open both parts, showing the deceased’s full body in the process.

This is likely one of the reasons half-couch caskets have remained so popular for so long. Having the option to open just one section of the lid or both is important to many people.

What Are the Different Types of Half-Couch Caskets?

Half-couch caskets come in a wide range of types and styles. They include the following:

Metal

Common metal casket materials include bronze, copper, and stainless steel. Because bronze and copper don’t rust as easily as steel, they’re often more expensive. People choose metal caskets in general because they’re durable and allow for the addition of custom elements, such as gold plating.

Wood

A wide variety of types of wood can serve as a casket material. Options include oak, pine, mahogany, walnut, and more.

A wood casket will often cost less than a metal one. However, prices can vary depending on whether a casket is hardwood or softwood, with the latter typically being less expensive.

Rental caskets

Even if a family is planning on cremating the body of a loved one, they might still want to first hold a funeral to allow other friends and loved ones to pay their respects. They might want it to be an open-casket funeral as well.

If so, they could save money by renting a half-couch casket. Because they’re going to eventually cremate the deceased’s body, there’s no need for them to spend extra money buying a casket that will only serve its purpose during the funeral.

Eco-friendly caskets

Some casket materials are biodegradable. This appeals to families who want to bury a loved one, but have concerns about the environmental impact of burying a casket in the ground. An eco-friendly half-couch casket gives them the freedom to arrange a traditional funeral and burial while also minimizing the impact on the environment.

Eco-friendly caskets come in a variety of forms. Their materials may be untreated wood, woven fibers, or cardboard. They also don’t feature any metal. Even traditional wood caskets often feature metal handles or hinges. That’s not the case with an eco-friendly half-couch casket.

What’s a Full-Couch Casket?

As you may have guessed, the lid of a full-couch casket is one single piece. That means when the lid is open, the deceased’s full body will always be on display.

(There is a potential exception to this, which this article will cover in greater detail later.)

This limitation makes many people less inclined to purchase full-couch caskets. That said, there are some reasons people consciously choose this option. For example, in many religions, it’s common to fully display the entire body of an important figure who’s passed on. Thus, there’s no point in using a half-couch casket, as there will be no plans to only display their upper body.

Additionally, if you know a funeral is going to be closed-casket, you might choose this option, as the lack of a clear divide between the top and bottom portion of the lid (which you would get with a half-couch casket) may give the casket a more complete look. This is important to some.

Caskets made of natural materials, like this pine casket and this wicker rattan casket, are more likely to be full-couch than half-couch. They don't feature metal hinges, so the lid simply lifts off in one piece. 

It’s also worth noting that there are some “hybrid” caskets in which the top portion of the lid ends lower than it does on a traditional half-couch casket. Usually, this lets you display everything above the deceased’s knees. While this style of casket, is relatively uncommon and therefore somewhat difficult to find, it’s still an option you may have reasons to consider.

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What Are the Different Types of Full-Couch Caskets?

Full-couch caskets come in many of the same forms as half-couch caskets. However, there are some types of full-couch caskets that typically aren’t available in half-couch form. Examples include the following:

Cremation caskets

A cremation casket is just a container in which a body rests before and during its cremation. Because the purpose of a cremation casket is to store a body instead of displaying it, there’s not much reason for it to be half-couch. Half-couch cremation caskets may technically be available to families who want to display bodies during pre-cremation funeral services but don’t want to spend extra money on a funeral casket and a cremation casket, but they’re fairly rare.

Personalized caskets

It’s possible to personalize both full-couch caskets and half-couch caskets to a degree. That said, there are some types of unique custom caskets that are almost always full-couch.

Personalizing a casket doesn’t always merely involve adding minor features like etchings or religious symbols. Although this isn’t particularly common (but also not unheard of) in the US, some choose to design custom caskets in shapes that represent the interests, occupation, or passion of the deceased. For example, when burying someone who was an avid guitarist, a family might choose a casket in the shape of a guitar.

Some custom casket shapes can allow for a half-couch style lid. However, there are some shapes that can make this difficult or prohibitively expensive. 

Religious caskets

Some religious faiths forbid burying someone with an open casket. Thus, some full-couch caskets are exclusively designed for certain religions.

A half-couch casket can also feature religious imagery if the faith of the deceased allows. However, it’s unlikely for a half-couch casket to have an exclusively religion-influenced design, at least in regard to rules prohibiting display of the body during a service.

Differences Between Half-Couch and Full-Couch Caskets

The single main difference between half-couch caskets and full-couch caskets is the nature of the lid. That said, there are a few other differences you may want to know about. 

1. Availability

Because half-couch caskets are more popular than full-couch caskets, they tend to be easier to find. That’s not to say that finding a full-couch casket is necessarily difficult. It simply means there’s a chance a few of the suppliers you consider when searching for caskets might only offer the half-couch variety.

However, in some instances, a full couch casket may cost more than a half-couch casket. This is something to keep in mind if you’re looking for affordable caskets. Although it’s not always the case that one variety will cost more or less than the other, because full-couch caskets are less readily available than the half-couch style, their cost can be higher due to the basics of supply and demand.

2. Regional popularity

Although half-couch caskets are more popular than full-couch caskets in general, there are regions where the full-couch style may be more common than it is in other parts of the world.

For example, the full-couch casket is more popular in the UK than it is in the US.

3. History

It’s not clear precisely why half-couch caskets began to gain in popularity when casket manufacturers and artisans first began making them. That said, some researchers believe the rise of different types of caskets might have something to do with the rise of funeral parlors.

As the funeral industry developed, funeral directors became more inclined to encourage open-casket viewings. Their increased popularity resulted in greater demand for a style of casket that would allow mourners to display only part of the deceased’s body.

4. Spray

It’s not uncommon at closed casket funerals for a large spray of flowers to rest on top of the casket. Naturally, this isn’t an option if the casket is open, and thus, this tends only to be an option someone considers if they’re purchasing a full-couch casket. If they’re purchasing a half-couch casket, they likely intend to leave it open for a viewing, and thus, they won’t be able to place flowers atop it.

That’s not to say they can’t add a spray of flowers later when the casket is closed, of course. You still have the option to add flowers when buying a half-couch casket. That choice is simply more common when mourners use the full-couch style.

5. Flag options

If you’re planning the funeral of an American veteran, you may want to display an American flag with them during their viewing. This will be a relevant factor when you determine whether you want a half-couch or full-couch casket.

According to The American Legion, if a casket is fully open, those placing the flag with the deceased should fold it into a triangle according to the traditional method and place it into the casket cap above the deceased’s left shoulder. However, if only half the casket is open (which is only an option with a half-couch casket), you should arrange the flag into three layers of folds, 10 inches each, placing it so that it covers the closed portion of the lid.

If you think this is the way you’d like to display a flag during a loved one’s viewing, you should choose the half-couch style. If you don’t have a preference, either style is fine.

6. Features

Some optional features are generally more commonly available in full-couch caskets than in half-couch caskets. For example, sometimes mourners may want to leave the lid entirely open to fully display their loved one’s body while still protecting it. This might also be a necessary choice at the public viewing for an important figure.

Some full-couch caskets allow for this by including an interior glass panel between the deceased’s body and the lid. This is technically an option one could include in a half-couch casket as well, but it tends to be more common in full-couch caskets.

You should also know that some full-couch caskets allow you to place a removable “inner foot panel” that covers the same portion of the deceased’s body that the lower half of a casket lid would cover. Thus, if you chose to purchase a full-couch casket, only to decide you would’ve liked to display a loved one’s body with half the lid closed, you still have the option to achieve this effect.

Granted, you usually have to purchase the inner foot panel with the casket itself, as its design will correspond with the size and shape of the casket. If you’re not sure whether you’ll want to fully display a loved one’s body, you should probably just play it safe and buy a half-couch casket.

That said, it’s theoretically possible that if you regretted getting the full-couch style, you could quickly find a supplier that would offer a matching inner foot panel if you didn’t buy one when you bought the casket itself.

Alternatives to Half-Couch and Full-Couch Caskets

Today, you have more options for your final disposition than ever before. You can choose burial in a half-couch or full-couch casket, or you can pick something even more unique, like one of these alternatives: 

  • Burial shroud. Some "green" cemeteries will let you be buried in a simple shroud, as opposed to a coffin or casket. You can find burial shrouds, like this one, online or make one yourself. One thing to keep in mind is that a shroud might not be suitable for a funeral or viewing. 
  • Ash scattering. If you're not attached to the idea of burial, you could have your ashes scattered, instead. This eliminates the cost of a casket or coffin entirely, and it can be a much simpler process. 
  • Ash burial. Instead of scattering the ashes, you could ask your family and friends to bury your ashes in an urn. You can even find urns that plant flowers, plants, or trees, like this Living Urn
  • Casket rental. If you choose a burial shroud or cremation instead of a casket burial, you can still have an open-casket or closed-casket funeral. To do so, you'll just need to rent a casket for the day. Many funeral homes offer this option.
  • Cremation diamonds. Cremation also opens up a wide world of memorial art and truly unique methods of final disposition. One example is transforming a portion of your ashes into a real, sparkling diamond with a service like Eterneva
  • Cremation stones. A similar option lets you transform your ashes into natural-looking stones with a service like Parting Stone. The difference is that cremation stones cost less than diamonds, and you can solidify all of a person's ashes rather than just a small portion.

Half-Couch Caskets: A Popular Option

From “How much does a casket cost?” to “How much does a casket weigh?”, you might have many questions about this topic. Hopefully, this guide has at least answered your questions about the two main types of caskets.


Sources 

  1. “How is the flag to be displayed on a fully open or half open casket?” The American Legion, The American Legion, www.legion.org/flag/questions-answers/91522/how-flag-be-displayed-fully-open-or-half-open-casket
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