What is a Burial Vault

 Grave LinerCemetery Burial Vaults: History, Purpose and Explanation


When someone is buried, the family is often required to purchase a burial vault or liner. Unfortunately, the family is often unfamiliar with these terms, which can be a huge disadvantage when trying to make an informed buying decision. The information provided here will allow you to select the burial vault or liner most appropriate for your needs.


A Brief History of the Cemetery Burial Vaults


Burial vaults were a solution to an age old problem of the sinking or collapsing of the earth, underneath the weight of equipment, vehicles or even persons, due to the loss of the integrity of the casket while buried underground.

Early attempts at providing some sort of protection from the graves collapsing included lining the grave walls with stone or brick and placing a piece of slate on top. Later, vaults were designed and manufactured specifically for this purpose.

You will find that different styles of vaults were used at different periods of time and in different geographical areas. In general however, many U.S. cemeteries began using six piece or sectional vaults somewhere around the early 1900’s. These six piece vaults were initially cut from slate and assembled in the open grave. They consisted of a bottom, four sides and a top; hence the name “six piece”. Some variations had notches cut in the end pieces to keep the sides from pushing in, but the surrounding earth provided the majority of the stability for their design. Later, these slate vaults were replaced with six piece concrete vaults.

During the 1920’s and 1930”s, 2 piece concrete vaults were beginning to emerge and by the late 1930’s, the six piece vault had to settle for almost a niche use. The two piece vault may have required the use of specialized equipment, but the installation time was substantially reduced and could now be completed by one person. I am aware of some sectional vaults still being used today however.

To this day, the possibility of the earth collapsing from a burial made years ago without a vault still remains and reminds us of the safety provided by such a product.


Are Cemetery Burial Vaults Required


Sealed Vault


While there is generally no state law that requires the use of cemetery burial vaults or cemetery liners, most cemeteries, require the use of a concrete vault or liner for all traditional interments, mainly for the reasons listed above. You will find cemeteries across the U.S. that have no such requirement, and make their use optional.

Many cemeteries today may also require the use of a burial vault for the interment of cremated remains, since the same principles hold true. While not as large as a traditional interment, the collapse of a grave used for cremation can have maintenance and safety concerns as well. The fact that there are numerous cremation interments in a relatively small area increases the impact on safety and appearance if vaults were not used.

Often times the cremated remains of a loved one will be buried in a shared grave, and may have to be removed for the burial of another family member and reburied with them. The use of a cremation burial vault insures the integrity of the remains during this process.


Why is a Cemetery Burial Vault Required?


When a burial is made and covered with dirt, there are certain loads placed upon the burial. A burial vault is specifically designed to withstand these loads, where as a casket alone is not. These loads are generally referred to as static loads, dynamic loads and impact loads.


A static load is the normal weight load that is placed on the burial vault by the weight of the ground that is above it. With today’s burial practices, the static load on a burial can exceed 4000 pounds or two tons.

A dynamic load is a load that varies in intensity. A dynamic load can be caused by cemetery equipment, such as tractors and backhoes, passing over the grave. Today’s larger cemetery equipment can weight in excess of 25,000 pounds.

An impact load can be caused by the use of a tamper during the backfilling operation, and can deliver a force that can exceed that of a static or dynamic load. Although this normally occurs for only a brief period of time, this type of load can be concentrated on a very small area.


Types of Burial Vaults


Cemetery burial vaults can be made from concrete, plastic and even metals. They can be designed as a box with a lid on top, or as a flat bottom with a dome shaped top that seals at the bottom. Each manufacturer will extoll the virtues of their design, but it has been my experience that most, quality manufactured vaults, will provide adequate protection against the loads that a burial will encounter.

Concrete vaults are generally provided in three different categories. The liner is a simple concrete box, which has no seal, and may or may not contain holes in the bottom in order to allow any water that may accumulate, to drain out. Then there is a sealed vault, which is a concrete box that may be painted or coated for aesthetics and to provide some water resistance. The sealed vault will also have a butyl type gasket that provides a water resistant seal between the lid and the box. Finally you have the lined and sealed vault. These concrete vaults contain the same properties as the sealed vault but add an additional inner and sometimes outer liner that is said to offer the greatest amount of protection. These inner and outer liners can be made from plastics, or metals and often time are very ornate adding to the visual appeal. Plastic and metal vaults offer similar level of protection within their product lines as well. It should be noted that the concrete vault industry makes a distinction between Burial Vaults and Burial Liners or Boxes. They only consider “vaults” as those in the lined and sealed category, everything else would be considered a grave liner, grave box or outer burial container.



Lined Vault


Yep, you read it correctly. Some manufacturers will even offer a warranty with their burial vaults. I have read some of these warranties and they limit their liability to providing you with a replacement vault should there be any failure of the vault. Generally, the warranty is against defects in manufacturing and the intrusion of water, with some warranties extending out 80 years or more. You will have to decide for yourself if a warranty plays a role in your buying decision, as the only way you will be able to judge the quality of the vault would be by disinterment. Not something that is done on a regular basis.


Concrete vaults not only offer a measure of safety, they may also help to retain the integrity of the casket, as well as keep the earth from settling which assists the cemetery in its maintenance operations and helps to maintain a lasting beauty that would not be possible otherwise. While burial of the body or cremated remains should always be considered permanent, there are occasions when disinterment becomes necessary. The use of a burial vault when the interment was made can help ensure dignity during this process. Cemeteries generally do not require the use of a burial vault simply to sell you something, in fact there are many cemeteries that require the use of a burial vault and do not sell them at all. Burial vaults are required; to protect the integrity of the casket, for the safety of the visitor and the safety of cemetery personnel and equipment.

Hopefully you have gleaned enough information to educate yourself and be confidant in making an informed buying decision.



  1. My family was told we had to purchase a concrete vault in order to inter our mother’s ashes in a grave my family has held for her for many years. The cemetery staff said it was the law.

    Is this true, and if so, why?

    Thank you!

    • Darren Struve says:

      No.. A vault for ashes is not required!! Some may require a urn vault, but there not concrete!!! I think you may have been taking advantage of! I dig graves for a living and feel free to contact me!

  2. we are currently doing research on a burial crypt located in the back yard of a famous house in Alton Illinois..that being the Mcpike mansion. this particular crypt was a precast unit made in two sections.. a base or slab.. and a one-piece top which was turned upside down over the slab and casket and was sealed on the bottom.. I have found that most precasting was done by the Wilbert company(haase) in Chicago .. they did precast as early as the 1880s.. this house was built in 1869 and a working theory is that while it was being built, these crypts (2 of them) were uncovered by workers.. the remains(if any) were relocated to the cemetery and these crypts were just tossed into the woods behind the house.. the first family who lived there did have two children die of illness while they were very young. one was 18 months..the other was a few years old. there may have been a private plot in behind the house at one time.. this practice is no longer accepted in our state..we are still guessing the age of these crypts..if you can shed any light on this please e-mail me..thanks.

  3. ok recent events concluded that our mystery burial liner is just that..a liner..its got the top with the enlaid placard..and it has no bottom we can find(neither the large one or the smaller one has it..but these are identical in type and casting..these were aperently bought close together or at the same time. unless these were placed on a brick base.. still the larger one is just over 6 ft long and appears to be the kind that sits flush with the ground , leaving the top of it visible as it has a 4 inch flange all the way around its edge. its about 16 inches wide on the inside so its possible the body may have been wrapped in burial cloth and set in the grave.. then this was placed over the decedent as stated both are the same style.. the smaller one is for an infant or toddler..it is barely 3 ft long and about 12 inches wide inside..the small one is intact but no lettering is visible anywhere on it..these are both cast concrete and we figure about mid 1850s in age.. any help would be appreciated to figure these out

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  5. attila fitzpatrick says:

    when you die you’re dead meat. do it cheap go green.

  6. Rita Chapman says:

    My father was buried at a veterans cemetery. When my mother passes she will be buried ontop of his grave. My question is, will we have to buy another vault that will sit ontop of my fathers vault? Not sure how this works. Any light you can shed is greatly appreciated.

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