What You Need to Know

                         About Outer Burial Containers

(read time is 8 minutes)   ŠKenneth C. Lambert, 2003


If you have not done so, please review the honesty pledge before continuing.


The three types of outer containers that enclose the casket when it is placed in the ground are 1) grave liners, 2) concrete burial vaults, and 3) bell type metal or fiberglass vaults. 



The best way to describe a concrete grave liner is to imagine a grave space.  In the bottom of that grave space someone puts a concrete bathtub.  Inside the bathtub is placed the casket.  Then a concrete lid is placed over the tub and casket.  The only purpose of this apparatus is to keep the ground from crushing the casket.  It enables the burial crew to pack the dirt with a tractor to keep a sink-hole from developing at the ground settles.  Preventing the sink-hole, thereby reducing maintenance, is the only legitimate purpose of an outer burial container in my opinion.


A hundred years ago, concrete liners were seldom used.  Sometimes wooden boxes were placed around the casket.  But caskets used to be all wood, so the box was really not needed until the advent of metal caskets.




Unlike a grave liner, a vault has a solid concrete or metal lid with a rubberized seal.  The concrete vaults are generally lined with various materials (polypropylene, marbleon, stainless steel, copper, and bronze) and come in several designs.  Again, the main purpose of a vault is to keep the soil, about a ton, from crushing the casket.  But, the addition of seals is intended to find a way to sell more expensive merchandise to supposedly protect the casket better.


A favorite sales tactic is to get the family to buy a wooden casket (which is actually more expensive than most metal caskets) and buy a more expensive vault to protect the fine wood. 


If the family is really worried about the elements getting to the casket, they should consider purchasing a bell type vault.  Think of a butter dish.  The casket sets on the flat plate and the vault cover (butter dish cover) is placed over the top and does not allow water to come up due to air pressure, similar to pushing a water glass upside down into the water. Air pressure keeps the water from getting inside the glass.


All vaults are eventually going to leak.  And think about it from a Christian point of view, your loved one is not in that body any way.  They are gone.  And whatever happened to "ashes to ashes, dust to dust"? 


Again, the real purpose of the more expensive vaults is to sell more expensive merchandise and make more money for the funeral business - just like any other business, especially cars.


There are several reasons cemeteries require vaults:


1. To keep the casket from being crushed.


2.  To keep a sink hole from developing.


3.  Legal issues over the sink-hole are that it is a tripping hazard and makes for bad news with elderly visitors.


4.  Labor is expensive and if the ground cannot be packed for fear of damaging the casket severely, the soil must be worked several times.  With a vault, the soil can be packed with heavy machinery, thereby preventing the sink-hole.


5.  But the real reason for the vault is that it is another opportunity for the funeral home or cemetery to make money on another funeral merchandise item.



Note that many rural cemeteries do not require outer burial containers.  In Texas, if a cemetery is a perpetual care cemetery, the banking commission regulations will require an outer burial container.  No, it is not a legal requirement, it is a regulatory requirement, if the cemetery is perpetual care. 


It is a Federal Trade Commission violation for a funeral salesman to tell you it is a legal requirement for you to purchase a vault when 1) a grave liner will suffice, or 2) if a cemetery is not a perpetual care cemetery.  Another situation is that the veterans cemeteries across the country furnish the concrete grave liner at no charge.  Just in Houston, several funeral homes sell vaults to families without informing them that the concrete grave liner is provided at no charge.  A former supervisor with the VA Cemetery in Houston once told me that the situation was so bad that he made the vault companies deliver vaults on separate trucks.


My first client was sold a vault even though she was coached that the concrete grave liner was furnished at no charge.  But at the time of death, the salesman  told her is was a "legal requirement" for her to have a vault.  I caught the extra $995 charge on an invoice review.  Luckily her daughter was with her and could verify what the salesman said.  Even though she tried to argue with him, the salesman persisted and won the battle. The funeral home owner refunded her money after the funeral and the vault was already buried with her husband.  But he acted only after I threatened affidavits to the Federal Trade Commission and the Funeral Service Commission.  She was lucky.



Again, keeping your loved one's body dry and protecting the casket is a large part of the sales pitch.  You can spend between $500 and $12,000 or more for a concrete grave liner or vault.  Most families buy concrete vaults with polypropylene liners for around $1,500 each.  You should be able to get a polypropylene lined vault for about $850 retail.  I've seen over $1700 for the same merchandise.


                     How does the vault get to the cemetery?


Vaults and grave liners are generally sold by funeral homes. Some cemetery owners, who do not have funeral homes, will insist on getting the vault sale.


There are only a few vault companies.  The vault companies deliver the vaults to the gravesites when the funeral home makes a call.  That is all there is to it, except for the paperwork.  The vault company does the delivery and the installation in many instances.

The funeral home simply makes a telephone call and coordinates the delivery. 


What do funeral homes charge for the vaults and grave liners?  The least expensive grave liner charge is around $300.  But some funeral homes charge $1,100 for the same grave liner from the same vault company.  Why the big difference in price?  There is not any more work!  The opening and closing charges usually cover the ground installation of the vault.  However, some cemeteries and funeral homes are starting to charge vault installation fees. 


Well, if one funeral home charged $300 and charged a 100 percent markup on the grave liner, they probably only paid around $150.  So what is the markup at the expensive funeral home for the same item?  Over 700 percent?  It's outrageous.  Oh Yeah.  I forgot.  Someone will pay the price.


Some funeral homes and cemeteries have even started displaying the vault at the grave site so the friends and family can see what type of outer burial container was purchased.    How about a bronze, bell vault for only $15,000? 


Imagine the family going to the gravesite to check it out before the funeral service and seeing the inexpensive vault set up in full view of the tent and chairs set up for the graveside service.  The salesman doesn't even have to say anything.  All he does is drive by with the family.  Oops!  There goes another thousand dollars as the family decides to purchase a more expensive, "more fittin," vault.  It would have been nice if the vault or grave liner were covered by some portable, grass, astro-turf carpet as it probably would be by the time the guests arrive.  But if the salesman thinks he can make a few more bucks, and the family can afford it, the vault will be there for the drive by with the immediate family before the ceremony.  


The smart approach for the family is to buy a grave liner and have instructions given to cover the grave liner cover with the plastic turf until the casket is lowered in the ground after the ceremony is over and the guests have left.  The funeral home will generally be accommodating if they know you are serious and won't stand for any foolishness.


Remember, funeral homes and their owners are as different as car dealerships.  They have different characters and backgrounds.   Some will stoop to the most cruel tactics to get more of a sale.  Others are very ethical. 


Some will do bait and switch sales tactics.  You can read about them in the newspapers.  Others are incredibly ethical and maintain the highest standards of professionalism.  Most funeral homes want you to believe they are family run and operated.  But many are run by corporate giants who are  buying up funeral homes throughout the country and internationally. All are in business to make money.  And make money, they do, at your expense.


When purchasing an outer burial container, my advice is go with the concrete grave liner. It is the least expensive.  There are also fiberglass bell vaults coming on the market.  Sometimes these can be less expensive than the grave liners.


When comparison shopping, all the vaults should be listed on the "Outer Burial Container Price List."  The format for the price list is standardized and required by Federal Regulation.  Vault models are usually displayed in the casket selection room.  Make sure you see every vault, just like every casket in the casket selection room.


If something doesn't seem right, it probably isn't.


Another tactic is that many funeral homes are giving out or faxing the General Price List with a range of caskets and outer burial containers and stating that a more complete price list will be available when you visit the funeral home.   This violates the intent of the regulation. An ethical provider should furnish all three price lists separately in the appropriate formats so it is easier to comparison shop.


If in doubt about what you are seeing, give Ken Lambert a call.  Sales people are very creative.  You never know when you can stump Ken.  Just when he thinks he has seen it all, another game is invented.  Your feed back is valuable to future families as Ken learns from your experiences.


When you go to compare outer burial containers, the following chart will be helpful:


Outer Burial Container Price Comparison Chart

Underline the least expensive in the category for easier comparison.




F. Home A


F. Home B


F. Home C


F. Home 












10 Ga Copper










12 Ga Copper










12 Ga.  Stain. Steel










Bronze Triune










Copper Triune










Stainless Steel





















7 Ga. Galvan.











10 Ga. Galvan.











12 Ga. Steel




















Thick Poly










Base vault










Grave Liner










ŠKenneth C. Lambert, 2003


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