Though we don’t often think about it, cemeteries are created with extreme care and precision. With so many different types of grave markers, modern cemeteries need to have the right amount of space to allow for graves, markers, and pathways.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- The Ongoing Fight for Space
- What Are the Dimensions of a Standard Grave Marker?
- What Are the Dimensions of a Standard Cemetery Plot?
- How to Choose the Right Size for a Cemetery Marker and Plot
This is quite the art form, but it didn’t always start that way. Many historical graveyards are rapidly running out of space. It’s never been more essential for cemeteries to carefully plan their sizing and layout to account for the need for more space.
Along with space requirements, different places have their own regulations regarding burial space, plus land isn’t always flat and even. In this guide, we’ll explore the standard size for a grave marker or plot. This will not only help if you’re purchasing a marker or plot yourself, but it’s useful to be more familiar with cemeteries and how they function.
The Ongoing Fight for Space
While it might sound weird, there’s a growing problem in many parts of the world: we’re running out of burial space. As more and more people migrated in large numbers from smaller villages to big cities during the industrial revolution, it became harder to find enough space in city graveyards for the deceased.
In the past, people were historically buried in rural church graveyards or even on family land. In the modern world, this isn’t always possible or practical. Major cities need space more than ever before. A 2013 survey in the UK revealed that nearly half of England’s cemeteries would run out of space within the next 20 years, and they’re not the only country with this challenge.
There are many proposed ways to combat this, such as the rise of cremation or even green burials that don’t adhere to the same strict dimensions as modern cemeteries. With a growing aging population, many are even “recycling” graves by removing the bodies after 30+ years for cremation.
In the United States, more people are being buried in rural places to balance the need for space. While the future will likely bring unique challenges, knowing the dimensions of a standard grave marker and plot is the first step to innovating moving forward.
What Are the Dimensions of a Standard Grave Marker?
A standard grave marker is any type of marker or headstone that identifies the person buried in the grave. It can be an upright, standing headstone or a flat plaque on the ground.
This marker's dimensions depend greatly on whether it’s a single grave (vs. a companion grave) and the individual cemetery guidelines. Each cemetery has its own rules about grave markers and sizing. This is usually so they can ensure their grounds crew has the ability to maintain the space.
For a standard grave, most fall into this size: 24" x 12" x 4". While there are smaller and larger variations, what you choose will depend on your budget, the material, and your cemetery’s rules.
For a companion grave, or two graves side-by-side that typically share a marker, the standard size is 36" x 12" x 4". This size is large enough to be placed over two graves and include the right amount of personal information. Again, the size depends on how much you’re willing to spend and your cemetery’s regulations.
What Are the Dimensions of a Standard Cemetery Plot?
The cemetery plot, also known as the grave space, is the actual land space used for the burial. A standard grave is the most common size used for this plot, and it’s set by the International Cemetery, Cremation, and Funeral Association. It’s 2.5’ x 8’, and this accounts for both the grave and the headstone.
While this is the size used most often, it’s also recommended for the cemetery to keep alternative sizes available as well. These are typically 3’ x 9’ and 4’ x 10’, respectively. These larger spaces accommodate those who exceed the standard measurements.
Standard cemetery plots are usually 6’ deep. If you’re wondering why graves are dug six feet deep, this traditionally was for health and sanitary reasons. This depth also allows the ground to be more structurally sound long-term, accounting for maintenance and potentially extreme weather.
In some parts of the world, the standard cemetery plot is actually above ground. For example, in New Orleans, most graves are above ground because the city is so low below sea level. This is why it’s essential to familiarize yourself with local laws and requirements before searching for the right burial plot for you and your loved ones.
How to Choose the Right Size for a Cemetery Marker and Plot
If you’re wondering how to buy a cemetery plot and marker for a loved one or even for yourself, it’s normal to be a bit intimidated. This isn’t a process many of us undertake often—if at all—so it’s understandable not to know what to consider.
In general, your decision will depend on the following factors:
- Budget: The most important thing to worry about is your budget. Larger markers and plots are more expensive.
- Location: Do you want a companion marker that’s shared with a partner, child, or other loved one? Similarly, would you like your burial plot shared with other family members? Would you like it in your hometown or where you currently live?
- Regulations and laws: Finally, there are local and cemetery regulations and laws that can guide your search. It’s best to ask what’s allowed and recommended before you begin looking.
When you purchase a burial plot, in particular, you are not buying the land. Your rights to the plot are always contractual. In other words, you’re buying the right to be buried in the plot. These plots can still be inherited or sold like any other land assuming local regulations are met.
Also, some new options are becoming more common to combat the growing demand for land. Many are choosing to bury urns rather than a full-sized casket to save on space. Green burials also allow more flexibility since there’s no use of a burial vault or large markers.
Buying a burial plot or marker is often a highly personal decision. There are many questions to ask when buying a cemetery plot, so you’ll want to make sure you know exactly what you agree to. The earlier you can start this process for yourself or your loved ones, the easier it will be when the time does come.
Understanding the Final Resting Place
As you can see from the guide above, choosing a grave marker and plot isn’t as simple as choosing what looks best to you. It’s also about finding something within your budget in a location that makes sense practically. In many parts of the world, this is becoming more difficult as space is at a premium.
Despite modern challenges, we’re adapting as an industry. There are more options than ever before, whether you choose a standard grave size or something a bit alternative. Everyone deserves a final resting place their family can return to again and again. This is part of our legacies and how we’re remembered.