A Consumer’s Guide to Burial Vaults and Grave Liners
A casket is generally considered the final resting place of a loved one. However, caskets alone are not designed to support the weight of the surrounding soil. Therefore, in most areas, cemeteries require caskets to be enclosed within a burial vault or grave liner. Although the terms “vault” and “liner” are interchangeable, there are vast differences in these two products. Furthermore, other terms, such as containers and receptacles are also used to describe these products.
A burial vault is a sealed outer container into which as casket is placed prior to its underground interment or burial in a cemetery. Its use will provide added protection for both the casket and deceased, particularly where there are poor soil conditions and high ground water levels. It will also support the weight of the earth and heavy equipment that may pass over the grave, thus substantially reducing problems at the graveside and, in turn, cemetery costs.
There are many types of vaults available. Some are elaborately designed with high quality structural concrete cores and reinforced interiors and exteriors made of various materials such as high-impact plastics, stainless steel, bronze and copper. The concrete vault covers may also be encased in bronze and copper and include other features such as special emblems, accent bars and name plates.
These elaborate, handcrafted concrete vaults are not readily available in the province. Manufactured in the United States, and weighing over 2,300 pounds, the cost to transport them alone makes it uneconomical for funeral homes to include them in their inventory of products.
There are, however, at least three types of vaults currently available in the province. They are steel, concrete and plastic. With the exception of the concrete vault, which is manufactured in Conception Bay South, the other two are relatively easy to transport and set up and therefore, can be used anywhere in the province. Because of its size and weight, the use of the concrete vault is generally restricted to the Eastern Region.
As mentioned, due to the difficulties associated with the transportation of the heavier concrete vaults, we are fortunate to have a Newfoundland company with the expertise to manufacture and deliver them to local cemeteries at a reasonable cost.
Their precast vault was designed using a standard industry mould and made out of high-density precast concrete poured over a heavy gauge reinforcing mesh basket. The inner dimensions of the rectangular concrete base are 30 inches wide x 30 inches high x 86 inches long, and will house all regular-sized caskets. The concrete sides and bottom of the base are two inches thick and the cover is three inches. A rubberized membrane is placed between the base and cover to ensure the vault is water-resistant once the cover is put on.
Prior to the availability of the precast concrete vaults, steel vaults were and still are used in local cemeteries. Their construction is quite different from that of the concrete vault. The primary difference being the manner in which the casket is placed inside the vault. In the case of the steel vault, the casket is slid inside through the end of the unit. A hinged door is then closed and secured tightly by turning a single bolt. Again, a rubberized membrane separates the steel door from the sides and once the bolt is fully turned, the vault is hermetically sealed. All other joints are welded. The exterior of the vault is gold in colour.
The lightest of the three vaults is the plastic unit. Dark in color and weighing approximately 90 pounds, it is fabricated in two sections: the base on which the casket is placed and a moulded upper dome which fits over the casket and interlocks with the base. After the two sections are closed, the surface contact points are sealed with a unique fluid seal made of polyurethane. Once applied, the seal ensures the burial vault is completely watertight, while also eliminating the infiltration of air and insects.
Due to the manner in which they are manufactured, each vault is installed differently at graveside. The concrete vault is placed in the grave and cannot be seen during the committal service. The casket is lowered into it and the cover is placed after the family has left the cemetery.
In contrast, the steel vault and the bottom of the plastic unit are placed on the lowering device and upon arrival at graveside, the casket is then put in or on the vault prior to the committal service. Unless otherwise requested, each vault will be secured and lowered into the grave after the family departure.
With the exception of the Veterans Field of Honour, where concrete vaults are mandatory, most local cemeteries prefer that the casket is placed in some type of outer receptacle at the time of burial. The container used most often is a wooden shell with cover. It is commonly referred to by the funeral director as a “grave liner”.
Although this liner does not provide any substantive structural support or protection for the casket, once the grave is backfilled, it does support the sides of the grave when it is opened, particularly during inclement weather. It also improves the grave’s appearance and shields the casket from large rocks and gravel during the closing of the grave.
Like caskets, the prices of burial vaults or containers are determined by their design, ease of construction and the types of material used. The following is a range of prices for the vaults and grave liners used in this province:
- Wooden shell $200 - $300
- Plastic vault $750 - $950
- Concrete vault $1,150 - $1,350
- Steel vault $1,250 - $1,450
After cremation, most people prefer to bury the urn. Again many cemeteries prefer the use of an outer receptacle. Although there is a wide variety of choices available, an outer wooden shell is the one most commonly used.
Even though the selection of a burial vault is not mandatory in some local cemeteries, the added protection it provides can be a great relief for families. This is particularly true during winter conditions, when the soil is frozen, or when the groundwater table is high.