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A Word About Burial Liners (written by a grave digger)

by Paul G. Huffman

For those who choose burial over entombment or cremation, you will make the added selection of a burial container to protect the casket. The available selections include burial liners, lawn crypts and vaults. To make this decision wisely, you not only need to consider the differences among them, but also what it is you’re protecting the casket from. In some areas, you will need to purchase one of these from a mortuary. Where I worked, they were sold by the cemetery. Let’s get to work.

Starting with burial liners, there are two different types. The cemetery will supply you with either a concrete sectional burial liner or a solid liner box. Rarely do they ask you to choose between the two. Even though the cemetery pays $50 for a sectional and $125 for a solid, they charge you around $250 for either one.

The cemetery will substitute a “sectional” for a “solid” at they’re own discretion. It’s not the profit from the sale of these burial liners they’re after. What they’re after is shaving the cost of labor, which means hundreds of dollars more than what they make on liner boxes.

A “sectional” burial liner is assembled in the grave by hand. It consists of six sections. Each section is only about 1¼ inch thick and constructed of concrete reinforced with thin, chicken wire. These panels are grooved to help hold the liner together when assembled. It’s about as water proof as a colander and as secure as stacking playing cards in the wind. What really hold these liners together is the dirt the grave diggers pack in around them. If you were to assemble one of these above ground, the slightest touch would topple it.

The solid, concrete, burial liner boxes measure about 30″ high, 33″ wide, and 84″ long. The concrete is about 1½” thick and reinforced with a heavier gauge iron mesh. This is a well-manufactured product.

The cemetery would actually prefer to give you the more expensive, solid liner box. It’s installed in the grave using the digging equipment in seconds. Why then, do they use sectional liners? Because you can break a sectional liner more easily to make it fit in tight areas where a solid box would not. You can pulverize a sectional liner into dust with a common carpenter’s hammer.

While digging a grave, it’s not uncommon to make alterations in the neighboring liners to make room for the new burial. By that I mean, it’s not uncommon to break them. It takes a considerable amount of time for a backhoe to chew away at the solid liner box to break it. It’s faster to break a sectional liner to make it fit down in between previous burials. Grave Diggers know all the tricks of the trade to break and fit a sectional to make it look good from up above. As we say, “You just gotta know how to talk to it.”

Another reason for using sectional liners is that a backhoe weighs several tons. Add another 1½ tons when it’s carrying a solid liner box. Driving over shallow graves could cave them in. That does happen. So if you’re selecting a liner box, insist on the solid liner box. Better yet, get it in writing. You should get the superior product for your money.

Now let’s talk about lawn crypts. This product is more solidly constructed than any type of burial liner. It’s double the height of a liner box because it sleeps two. An inset cover separates the two burials. The cemetery excavates entire sections at once and installs the lawn crypts side by side. Then they replace the gravel with fine sand, top dress it with loam, and seed or sod the area. This procedure eliminates the need to dig down in between them.

Lawn crypts virtually eliminate the horrors previously associated with burial. The area is not subjected to massive cave-ins, giant boulders, or jack-hammering neighboring burial containers to make room for new burials. These types of problems even cause damage to burial vaults.

Also, the price of the lawn crypt is usually included in the cost of the burial lot, so the cemetery is less greedy on recouping its burial container investment. Perhaps you recall some the more distasteful photographs released by the major news wire services portraying the damage done to many cemeteries in the wake of the 1993 Mississippi River floods. Even after the forceful washing away of the landfill, although completely exposed, the lawn crypts remained intact.

And now, a brief discussion on burial vaults. Burial vaults measure about 2½” thick and are reinforced with a heavy gauge wire mesh. The cover seals onto the vault with a strip of tar methodically sealed into the grooves. It is virtually waterproof because it’s also lined with a copper or plastic liner. You get your money’s worth, but you will spend a few thousand dollars. If you were to choose the cheapest vault available, you’re only getting a glorified burial liner box. The down side of burial vaults is that they are subject to all the problems previous mentioned.

If you do prefer burial, I highly recommend a lawn crypt over burial liners and vaults. It costs about the same as buying two burial liners, but it is a much superior product. Plus, they will cost you well over a thousand dollars less than a burial vault.

*Condensed from “Through the Eyes of a Grave Digger”

Copyright 1996 by Paul G. Huffman