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A burial vault is a container that houses a casket when it is buried. The burial vault is placed in the grave, the casket is lowered into the vault and a top (lid) is placed onto the vault before the grave is covered. The purpose of the burial vault is to protect the casket from the weight of the earth and the equipment used in the maintenance of the cemetery property. Burial vaults also maintain the beauty of the cemetery by eliminating soil settlement. Burial vaults are most commonly made from concrete, but are also made from steel and plastic.
A burial liner is similar to a burial vault. The main difference between a burial vault and liner is that the liner only covers the top and sides of a casket, whereas a burial vault completely encloses a casket. In a burial liner, the bottom of the casket in this case is in direct contact with the ground. A burial liner serves to protect a casket during burial from being crushed and keeps the casket from being crushed when the heavy equipment that many modern cemeteries use pass over the grave. A liner helps keep the ground over the grave from sinking in, and helps keeps the ground even. To prevent sunken graves, many modern cemeteries require that either a burial liner or vault be used in burials.
The present day funeral industry emerged in the aftermath of the American Civil War. At that time burial vaults were made from brick. The grave would be lined with bricks and the coffin would be placed inside and covered. Around the turn of the century, the American funeral industry began to pick up steam and Americans' experience of death and body disposal was transformed. In the late 1880s, companies began to manufacture a two-piece concrete burial vault. As the American funeral industry continued to grow, and gain respect as a reputable business, so did the burial vault industry. Burial vaults continued to be improved and in the late 1920s, companies began to coat them with asphalt to keep moisture away from the casket.
The growing demand for burial vaults led to the creation of The National Concrete Burial Vault Association (NCBVA) in the 1930s as a non-profit organization of concrete burial manufacturers in the United States and Canada. As of 2009, the NCBVA has 350 independent concrete burial vault manufacturers. The total number of burial vault manufacturers is not known due to the fact that this organization is limited to only concrete burial vault manufacturers (not plastic and steel) and not all manufacturers are members.
Just as with any product, over the last century burial vaults have continued to be improved. Now burial vaults are built to withstand up to 5,000 pounds per square foot (which is an exceedingly extreme and unlikely load to guard against,) and are available in a variety of finishes and also liners to keep moisture from the casket.