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What Are Urn Vaults and Why Use One?

by Wendy Jacobson

Photo by ann gav*

Have you noticed the many after-death and final resting-place options that exist today? Think of it – in-ground burial, above-ground urn vault burial, natural burial, cremation, space burial, and cryonics, just to name a few. Of the natural burial options, also known as vault-free burials, there are eco-eternity forests, conservation cemeteries, nature sanctuaries, memorial gardens and more. When choosing cremation, choose between scattering ashes on land or at sea, burying the ashes, storing them at home or in a piece of jewelry, planting them with a tree, turning them into a tattoo or using them to create a stunning glass keepsake. 

With so many options of what to do after death, the decision can be overwhelming, but at OneWorld Memorials, we're here to help with information that will help you make an informed decision. From helping you find the perfect urn to honor the life and tastes of your lost loved one to choosing the appropriate burial method, our team is here for you.

This article will discuss one of the many burial options available to you. To narrow the focus a little, we’re going to look at the option of burying ashes after cremation. Specifically, we’re going to look at the use of a cremation urn vault to protect an urn when burial in a cemetery is chosen.

What Are Urn Vaults?

Urn vaults are sometimes referred to as burial vaults and are used to protect burial cremation urns from the elements once buried. You may be asking, “why can’t I just bury the cremation urn by itself,” which is a great question.

Most cemeteries require a cremation urn vault to protect a burial urn or urns against shifting soil, moisture, and the weight of the earth, which can cause the ground to cave in. In addition, cemeteries use heavy maintenance equipment that could inadvertently damage an unprotected urn. Urn vaults protect the cremation urns in all of these scenarios. 

What are urns? Urns are purpose-built and often decorative containers to hold the ashes of departed loved ones. Sometimes, your loved one's urn will contain their ashes and a good amount of air or empty space. Urns themselves are not as heavy duty as vaults, so these empty areas of the urn can cave in when pressure is applied from above, causing the ground to shift and even allowing sink holes to form.

In order to protect your loved one's ashes as well as the cemetery grounds, an urn vault will likely be required for burial. If your loved one’s ashes will be interred in an above-ground cremation vault, you may wish to discuss whether an additional urn vault is necessary.

What to Look for When Purchasing an Urn Vault

Consumers have a variety of options when it comes to vaults for urns. Along with cost, things to consider when choosing an urn vault include:

  • Material / construction
  • Size of the cremation urn or urns relative to the cremation urn vault
  • Level of protection desired
  • Ability to customize and personalize the urn vault

Materials Used to Construct an Urn Vault

There are many types of burial vaults to choose from. Hi-tech polymer and concrete are most often used to construct urn vaults. These materials help preserve the urn and ensure a complete seal to protect the contents against moisture. The heavy-duty material is impervious to moisture and is relatively inexpensive compared to other types of burial materials. 

The majority of vault designs are simple and constructed with the intention of holding and protecting a burial cremation urn of one’s choosing. For example, the Pearl Cremation Urn Vault is made of a high-technology polymer and will hold one cremation urn. The vault is non-decorative but is only used in the actual burial, not in any accompanying memorial services or celebrations of life. This urn vault is built to withstand pressure up to 3,300 pounds per square inch and is large enough to accommodate most standard urns.

Cremation urns to bury ashes are placed inside the vault and are available in many designs, materials, and sizes to reflect the personality or wishes of the deceased. Unlike the cremation vault, the cremation urn is typically decorated and will be displayed prior to interring.

Size of Urn Vaults

The size of an urn vault depends on what is going to be placed inside. Some people opt to have one cremation urn inside the urn vault. Others want two urns – those of a husband and wife or parent and child – placed inside. A double vault, such as this granite-finish urn vault, holds two urns standing upright in a side-by-side position. There are different cremation urn vaults available for either scenario, and the number of urns you wish to house will determine the size of the vault you need.

When shopping for an urn vault, pay attention to the inside dimensions listed on a vault's product page, as well as to the size of the cremation urn or urns that will be placed inside. Be sure the urn vault is large enough to house the cremation urn of choice. If you have any questions, contact OneWorld Memorials customer service, and we'll be happy to help you choose the urn that will best suit your needs.

Level of Protection

Urn vaults are designed to withstand a variety of outside forces in order to provide maximum protection for your loved one's urn. Vaults are made to work with urns made of ceramic, metal, wood, stone or marble. To provide maximum protection, they should be watertight, with ultimate sealing capacity to prevent penetration of water or other liquids, as well as bugs and critters.

When shopping for an urn vault, you’ll want to pay attention to the degree of pressure they can withstand from earth-moving and cemetery equipment. You can check with the cemetery to see which equipment they use for maintenance to determine if the urn vault you selected will be strong enough to withstand the weight and pressure.

Some manufacturers make double-layer protection urn vaults. These might have an exterior made of cement, with interiors being made of bronze, copper, stainless steel or polyethylene. It’s not required to add that extra layer of protection. Check with the cemetery or funeral service provider to resolve any questions. 

Customizing an Urn Vault

Adding customization to the urn vault can provide comfort to the bereaved. While urn vaults are not typically used during memorial ceremonies, a plaque engraved with symbols, words, and images can honor the deceased and give the living peace. Plaques can be attached to the front or top of the urn vault. Identification placed on an urn vault can also assist the family and cemetery staff when needed.

Some people opt to add a photo of the deceased to the urn vault. Others place small mementos, such as a wedding ring or other meaningful items, inside the vault. Adding mementos to the urn vault is a great way to honor your loved ones and customize their final resting place.

For more information about adding engravings and personalizations to an urn or urn vault, visit our engraving and personalization guide.

Cost of Cremation Urn Vaults

How much you spend on a cremation urn vault depends on the size, material and amount of customization, if any. And as mentioned, a vault with double-layer protection will impact the price. OneWorld Memorials’ collection of urn vaults is offered at a range of price points to suit your budget and tastes.

OneWorld Memorials offers a selection of high-quality urn vaults in several attractive colors. Many of our vaults can be customized with a unique engraving and can be found in several sizes.

At OneWorld Memorials, we are dedicated to offering high-quality urns and memorial items to help you honor the life of your lost loved ones. From beautiful cloisonne urns to small keepsake items, we hope you’ll find all of your urn and burial needs to commemorate loved ones here.

Many people choose to be buried in a family cemetery plot. If cremation is a choice, a cremation urn vault will protect the ashes of a loved one stored in a cremation urn. It is recommended to check with your funeral provider for any rules that might apply before deciding whether or not to purchase an urn vault.

For further reading about cremation urn vaults, check out this brief guide on the topic. From the history of urn vaults to practical considerations, we’re here to help you make the best memorial choices for you and your loved ones.

*Image and related text can be found here:

Wendy Jacobson is a freelance writer living in Minneapolis with her husband, two kids and dog. She helped market her mother’s book, “Hands Off My Hope: Life Lessons on my Journey with Breast Cancer” at the request of her mom, who died two weeks after publishing it in 2008. She also is the editor of Minneapolis Happening, a digital lifestyle magazine about what’s happening in Minneapolis and the surrounding area.