4 Questions to Consider when Choosing a Cremation Urn

Four questions to consider when choosing a cremation urn.

How can a choice of one urn be made, given the vast array of cremation urns available? The choice provides both possibility and challenges. The possibility – finding an urn that perfectly matches your memorial service's needs to commemorate yourself or a loved one. The challenge – wading through the various designs, shapes, materials and uses of cremation urns for ashes. To minimize your search time and eliminate the possibility of buying an inappropriate memorial product, we've highlighted the most relevant elements in making this important decision.

In choosing a cremation urn there are 4 simple questions to consider:

  • How will the urn be used?
  • What are the best materials for an urn?
  • What is an appropriate design for an urn?
  • How much should I pay for an urn?

1. How will the urn be used?

There are many ways to honor the memory of a loved one and considering how you plan to use the urn will help determine the best option.

  • If you would like to display an urn in the home or elsewhere, permanent urns are a great option. They are available in metal, ceramic, marble or stone, wood and glass.
  • Columbarium NicheStoring an ashes urn in a columbarium, a wall with niches to place cremation remains at a site, allows for a wide selection of urn types and styles. The most important factors are size of the niche and the lasting quality of the urn material. First find the size of the niche before deciding on any urn. Learn if the site offers any guidance, and see what others have placed in their niche.
  • Scattering ashes: Choose an urn that is lightweight with an easily removable lid.
  • Land or Water Burials: This selection allows you to pay homage with a biodegradable cremation urn. Or, an urn of any material can be used for land burial under the right conditions.
  • Keepsake Urns: Choose mini urns and cremation jewelry. They serve the purpose of storing a small portion of cremation ashes and are popular when sharing ashes among family and friends.

Once you know what type of memorial service or ceremony you want, and how you’d like to permanently memorialize your loved one, the selection process for cremation urns narrows.

2.  What are the best materials for an urn?

Our planning guide “Cremation Urns: A Variety of Materials to Suit Your Needs” provides detailed information on a range of materials. For a quick reference, think about these considerations to help narrow your choices.

  • After a memorial service, will you keep the urn or recycle it?
  • Will you place it in the ground or water to biodegrade?
  • If you scatter the ashes, will you be carrying the scattering urn a distance? Will weight be an issue?
  • Will you be traveling with the urn?

Whether you have chosen to scatter the remains, place the urn in a columbarium niche, bury it, or display it in your home, here are some general guidelines to help with your selection. Keep in mind that weight, size, and design for burial urns for human ashes vary.

Permanent cremation urns

  • will not lose its form or structure due to natural elements, keeping cremated ashes safe and secure
  • urns made of stone, such as marble or granite, and metals of bronze, aluminum, or stainless steel, are good choices
  • many wooden burial urns serve as permanent urns
  • permanent cremation urns are appropriate for interment, entombing in a mausoleum, or resting in a columbarium niche

Biodegradable urns

  • also known as non-permanent burial urns
  • urns that slowly decompose over time, releasing the remains into the ground or water as the materials gradually break down
  • made of non-toxic and natural materials such as Himalayan rock salt, handcrafted papers made from Mulberry bark, cornstarch, coconut shell, gelatin mixed with sand, and bamboo; many wooden cremation urns are also biodegradable; the material poses no threat to the environment
  • biodegradable urns are great for burial and sometimes as scattering urns

Urns for scattering ashes

  • made from lightweight, natural materials
  • come in the form of paper scattering tubes, water soluble urns for scattering on water, biodegradable urns for releasing into nature, and fabric urns made of silk
  • most importantly, they are lightweight, easy to carry to the scattering destination and can be securely held while performing the scattering ceremony

3.  What is an appropriate design for an urn?

Urn styles and themes are almost limitless. The appropriateness of any urn design is defined foremost by the deceased’s personal wishes. Secondly, if wishes remain unknown, use your loved one's personality, passions, hobbies, or special interests to guide you to a style reflective of your loved one.

For keeping ashes, you also want to consider the construction of an urn. Many of the urns available at OneWorld Memorials are crafted with a metal lining that keeps conditions ideal inside and will not allow any ashes to escape. If an urn does not have a metal lining, very often it will include a bag to secure ashes before placing inside the urn for secure housing.

Urn styles include:

  • cloisonné
  • polished wood
  • biodegradable materials
  • patriotic designs
  • religious themes
  • handmade designs
  • motifs of hobbies including sports, nature, gardening, music and cars
  • infant, children and adult urns
  • pet urns
  • cremation jewelry includes a range of styles by design and by interest

Engraving is a great option for those who want to further personalize the cremation urn. Names, dates, or even quotes can be inscribed onto many urns for a unique touch. For urns that cannot be inscribed, many can be embellished with an engraved pendant. Also, as noted in the previous section, look for easy to handle designs for scattering ashes.

4.  How much should I pay for an urn?

Cremation urns come in all price ranges, so the first step is to know what you'd like to budget. If your budget is modest (up to $100), there are many high quality urns in the $45 - $100 range. You may even be able to find discontinued urns or overstocked urns that are being sold at as much as 80% off their original retail price. With companies now selling over the Internet, the competitive pricing of urns has made them very affordable without sacrificing quality or the beauty of the design. 

If you have a moderate budget you can find cremation urns with greater production value, meaning they require more man-hours to create. Cloisonné urns, highly crafted wood urns, metal urns with intricate decorations, marble urns, ceramic urns and some glass urns generally fall into a higher, but moderate, price bracket of $100 - $350.

For higher or unlimited budgets, you can invest in high priced urns that exhibit rare craftsmanship, use more expensive materials and require more man-hours. Artisan urns are one of a kind and made by hand. They usually warrant a premium price for the unique design. Urns can be commissioned and handcrafted by an artist for a one-of-a-kind purchase. Such urns can go for $350 up to thousands of dollars. They are often made from glass, wood, ceramic or more expensive metals.

Urn Buying Tip: Most funeral homes have a limited selection of urns and charge a premium for them. There can be a considerable price difference between an urn online and the exact same urn at a funeral home. Doing research will help you feel satisfied with your final purchase.

Overcoming The Challenge of Many Urn Choices

Your choice of a cremation urn will undoubtedly pay homage to your loved one. The place it will rest and your sensibilities of décor will also factor into your choice. Arriving at a decision for a final resting place for the ashes will also leave you with a sense of resolution. By exploring a few simple questions and narrowing your choices, a challenging situation will result in a satisfying outcome. To get a pictorial view of cremation urn choices see our infographic: The Wide World of Cremation Urns.

To further assist you, check out our Planning Guides on selecting the right size cremation urn, planning scattering ceremonies, as well as other topics that include details regarding biodegradable urns, green burials, purchasing an urn for a grieving friend, and planning a memorial service.



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