There are a lot of options to consider when planning a funeral and a burial. Aside from choosing the casket, embalming, and other extras, you’ll also need to determine whether you or your loved one need a burial vault.
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In simple terms, a burial vault is a type of lined, sealed outer container that protects the casket. These serve a structural and practical purpose, but they’re not always necessary depending on the situation.
A burial vault is different from a grave box or burial container that’s not sealed and lined. In today’s world, it’s important to consider the overall cost and your specific needs when deciding on the burial vault. Because this can be confusing in addition to all of the other things to know about burials, here is a full list of the types of burial vaults explained.
Main Features of a Burial Vault
To start, what exactly is a burial vault and why is it used? These are literally containers made of concrete, plastic, metal, or any material that’s built to last. Unlike some types of casket materials, they don’t degrade over time. At least, not quickly.
These are placed within the grave before the casket. The casket is placed inside the burial vault, as the name implies, as a way to protect against the elements.
How do burial vaults differ from burial grave boxes or liners?
A burial liner is also made with metal, plastic, or concrete, so it’s easy to see why they’re often confused with burial vaults. In reality, this is something that doesn’t feature any ground wall protecting the casket from the ground under the grave.
The casket itself lies on the bare ground, though the burial liner provides some protection. The only way to achieve full protection from the elements is with a burial vault.
Do burial vaults stop decomposition?
A common myth about burial vaults is that they stop the decomposition process. While it’s hard to consider what happens to our loved one’s bodies once they’re buried beneath the ground, there is actually no way to stop this process. While embalming and using a burial vault might slow down this process, there is no stopping nature.
Funeral directors are told not to describe these products as something that preserves the body in the grave. This violates the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s laws on how vaults and liners are to be sold to families. However, because they prevent dirt, water, and other natural elements from reaching the body, they will delay decomposition over time.
Why do some people use burial vaults?
Though they don’t stop decomposition, there are still many practical reasons to use burial vaults. They serve a structural purpose within the cemetery, and they also ensure the casket is safe over time. Some cemeteries even install these vaults in every grave as a landscaping tool.
Many families and individuals choose to use burial vaults because:
- Protection: If you live in an area where flooding and extreme weather are common, the vault protects the casket from anything getting in.
- Sinkholes: The ground can actually cave in around the casket in some parts of the world. This depends on the type of ground and the moisture content, but sinkholes aren’t uncommon.
- Coastal regions: In coastal regions, the ground is usually unstable and wet. A burial vault is usually required to keep the grounds safe, and also to avoid water from leaking into the casket.
The option to choose whether to use a burial vault or not likely comes down to your geographical location and the specific ceremony. Some require it depending on the area, but you still might be able to avoid it by going to a small, family-run cemetery. The choice is usually left up to the family to decide what’s best for their wishes.
5 Main Types of Burial Vaults
Though all burial vaults provide the same structural support, that doesn’t mean they’re all built the same. There are different materials and features to consider, and this will affect the overall price and look of the vault. This, in addition to how much a casket weighs, will determine what type is best for your needs.
1. Burial liner
If you’re concerned about cost, a good compromise is a burial liner. As explained above, this is a bit different from a standard burial vault. There is no bottom to this container, so the bottom of the casket is exposed to the elements.
Still, a burial liner provides much of the same support. It will protect the ground from caving into the grave, and it’s often required by many cemeteries. These are usually made of concrete, but they can come in some of the materials above as well.
2. Concrete burial vault
Concrete vaults are very secure, but they’re often the most expensive choice. They come with an inner liner that’s usually made of another material like metal or plastic.
Concrete vaults are incredibly secure and won’t decompose quickly. These are most common in coastal regions in need of heavy support.
3. Metal burial vault
Like when choosing a casket, you can choose a type of metal for your vault. These come in steel, copper, and bronze. Steel is the most cost-effective choice, with copper and bronze being the most expensive.
Metal vaults are very secure against the elements, and they add more flexibility in the appearance of the vault if this is a concern. Metal vaults are often rust-proof to prevent water damage over time.
4. Air sealed casket
There is also a choice when it comes to the type of seal on the burial vault. The seal is what ensures dirt, dust, and other debris don’t get in.
The air seal uses air pressure to create an actual pressure seal on the container. Another type of seal is top seal, which is less secure but still provides structural support.
5. Urn vault
Finally, you might also choose a burial vault for cremated ashes. If you’re burying an urn, an urn vault ensures the ashes are secure from the elements. Urns, like caskets, are rarely 100% sealed. They don’t often provide a lot of protection from the elements.
While it’s true an urn is likely to experience issues with the ground caving in with the smaller space, it could still be affected by flooding or extreme weather. Luckily, an urn vault is very affordable and provides the same level of protection.
Are Burial Vaults Required?
It’s important to understand the federal and local rules about burial vaults. These lead to a lot of misunderstandings, and many people overspend on burial vaults that they might not need or be able to afford.
The first thing to note is that there are no federal or state laws requiring burial values to be used. While they provide much-needed support and security in some areas, they are not required legally. That being said, many cemeteries have their own rules and regulations they’re allowed to enforce.
It makes a lot of logical sense from a landscaping perspective why many cemeteries require burial vaults. They prevent the ground from shifting, and they provide greater integrity for ground staff. Without using a burial vault in areas where the ground is unstable, maintenance would constantly be needed to keep the ground level.
The best way to know what’s right for you is to research the rules in your area. You can always call multiple cemeteries to see what regulations they have and how they differ. The first step in learning how to plan a funeral is to determine your budget. Your burial vault, casket, and so on all need to fit into the entire picture.
Burial Vaults Provide Peace of Mind
While it’s true burial vaults aren’t always necessary, they do provide much-needed peace of mind for many families. Knowing that the casket is secure and safe from the elements is something that’s worth the extra cost for some families. Burial vaults are just as personalizable today as regular caskets, so they allow a lot of freedom of choice.
In most cases, a grave liner is a minimum way to make sure you satisfy any cemetery requirements. If you choose to opt for a full burial vault, this could be worth the added security, especially if you live in a coastal region. Ultimately, these burial decisions are up to you.