Choosing a Casket: Everything You Need to Know
Caskets are synonymous with traditional funeral services. They’re defined as the boxes which hold the deceased’s body before burial or cremation. These elements are also a significant big-ticket item related to funeral expenses.
Choosing a casket is an important (and expensive) part of funeral planning, and our comprehensive guide details everything you need to know about choosing the right one.
Casket vs. Coffin
You may hear a casket referred to as a coffin. Since they serve the same purpose, both terms may be used interchangeably. There are, however, specific differences between the two. A coffin has six or eight sides, compared to a four-sided rectangular casket. The distinct hexagonal/octagonal shape of a coffin is designed to be wider at the top (to fit the shoulders) and narrower at the bottom where the feet lay.
Some coffins feature a glass front with a window to view the deceased, whereas caskets are designed with split lids which can be opened during the visitation per the bereaved family’s wishes.
Coffins are often cheaper than caskets because their design uses less material during construction. Caskets are more popular with Americans, as these are often the focal point during funeral services and graveside ceremonies.
Types of Caskets
Caskets are made out of a variety of materials, the most common being metal and wood. They can also be created from natural, environmentally-friendly materials such as cork, bamboo, and banana leaf.
Metal caskets are usually constructed from bronze, copper, or stainless steel. Bronze and copper caskets are typically higher-end products due to their no-rust properties and long-lasting durability.
Steel caskets are still durable but less expensive and easier to source. They are often categorized by “gauge,” referring to the thickness of the steel. The lower the gauge, the thicker the metal (for example, 16-gauge steel casket is thicker and more expensive than a 20-gauge model).
Metal caskets can be customized in numerous painted finishes and may feature gold plating. Some metal caskets also come with a rubber gasket wrapped around the lid and the base of the box. This “gasketing” feature is to prevent outside elements from penetrating the casket and is often marketed as a protective attribute to preserve the deceased’s body. However, per the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, caskets that are described as “gasketed” or “sealed” do not prevent decomposition and are not required by law.
Wood caskets are primarily made out of solid hardwood or furniture-grade wood veneer. The types of wood used vary, and might be constructed from oak, maple, poplar, pine, mahogany, walnut, and more.
Hardwood caskets tend to be more expensive than softwood models, but all wood caskets come in various finishes such as high gloss polish, satin, or cloth-covered. Some families prefer a “simple pine box” with a plain natural finish (no stain or varnish).
Cremation caskets are used to hold the deceased’s remains before they are placed in the cremation chamber. A cremation casket can be constructed out of wood, as well as natural materials like wicker, particleboard, or cardboard (cardboard boxes are usually known as “alternative containers”).
Families can select any casket they like for the cremation process as long as it is rigid, leak-proof, combustible, non-toxic, and doesn’t feature any metal parts.
Caskets made out of natural, biodegradable materials are becoming more popular with the growth of green funerals. “Green” caskets use a variety of renewable and/or recyclable materials including bamboo, cardboard, organic cotton, and willow, and don’t feature metal parts or chemical paints/veneers.
Some funeral homes carry biodegradable caskets but can also be purchased from online retailers. Prices are usually cheaper if you buy online but shipping fees can add a significant amount to the bottom line.
Rental caskets are the same as metal or wood caskets except they have a removable insert that allows them to be used more than once. The deceased’s body is placed in a simple box or container, and then positioned in the rental casket to give the appearance that the body is in a “real” casket.
Most funeral homes stock rental caskets in their inventory. These are practical options for families who want to hold an affordable funeral service but can’t afford a brand-new casket. Rental caskets are also eco-friendly due to their reusable nature.
You can build your own casket using inexpensive materials. There are several DIY casket kits sold online or in bookstores, complete with instructions on how to make a casket from scratch. Depending on your skill level, taking the time to build a casket can save on funeral costs. These are also excellent ways to memorialize a loved one with a unique, personalized tribute.
Virtually all caskets feature a wide assortment of decorative and functional features that can be placed internally and externally, depending on individual preferences.
- Interior Linings – Casket linings are composed of fabric sewn into the interior of the box. Most linings are made out of polyester (including the crepe designs in many modern caskets), but velvet, silk, and satin fabrics are also popular. Interior linings can be customized with panels that reflect the deceased’s personality (e.g. camouflage, military, sports teams)
- Shell Design – Casket exteriors can be wrapped in high-quality images to make them truly unique, or molded into distinct shapes that celebrate the life of the deceased (e.g., in Ghana, eccentric caskets are the societal norm).
- Casket Lids – Casket lids come in two types – half couch and full couch. Half couch lids come in two pieces to allow the deceased’s upper body to be displayed during a viewing or visitation. A full couch lid allows for the entire body to be viewed in the event of an open-casket funeral.
- Memory Tube – Some caskets feature a leak-proof compartment in the lid which holds identification information. The memory tube is very useful in identifying remains without reopening the lid in the event the casket is ever disentombed.
- Exterior Features – These include handles, personalized casket “corners,” ornamental medallions, and more.
Like any consumer product, caskets come in a range of prices. The total cost of a casket depends on the material used, plus the addition of customized features.
To find the perfect casket that fits your budget, shop around and compare prices before you need to make an actual purchase. Planning a funeral in advance is one of the best ways to get a good deal on caskets, and planning ahead allows you to fully understand funeral costs and find the best deal.
Casket prices generally fall in the following ranges:
- Metal caskets – from $800 (20 gauge steel casket) to $15,000 (bronze with 14K gold plated hardware). Some high-end bronze and copper caskets sell for $30,000.
- Wooden caskets – from $600 to $10,000. Top-quality mahogany caskets can cost well over $16,000.
- Rental caskets – $500 to $1,500.
Casket size is also integral to the overall price, as standard exterior dimensions are generally 28” wide x 89” long x 24” tall (with interior specifications of 24” wide x 79” long). Oversized caskets have interior dimensions of 27-30” wide.
Where Can I Buy a Casket?
Caskets can be purchased outside of the funeral home, as the Funeral Rule clearly states that funeral homes must accept a casket purchased from an outside source. Walmart and Costco both offer caskets for sale, however, they only ship caskets to addresses in 37 states.
Numerous online retailers sell caskets at discounted prices, but it’s important to remember that shipping costs add to the total bill.
Buying a Casket: Consumer Protections
When doing business with funeral providers, consumers are entitled to specific federal protections. These are detailed in “The Funeral Rule,” which is enforced by the Federal Trade Commission, giving families the right to compare casket costs among funeral homes. The Funeral Rule allows consumers to:
- View casket prices before viewing the actual caskets. This can save money on funeral expenses because lower-priced caskets might not be on display.
- Use an alternative container instead of a casket for cremation. The funeral provider must tell you which type of alternative containers are available.
- Purchase a casket from a retailer other than the funeral provider. Funeral homes must accept caskets that are purchased online or from a casket store.
Paying for a Funeral Doesn’t Have to Be Difficult
In addition to paying for funeral and burial expenses, purchasing a casket can be an expensive and unexpected burden. Get helpful tips on how to manage these financials via our ultimate guide on paying for a funeral.Back to Knowledge Center