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Losing a loved one is a monumental experience, accompanied by a range of emotions and followed by a variety of important decisions. Among those decisions is how your loved one will be laid to rest. This blog post discusses the differences between a coffin and a casket, when each is appropriate, and how to decide which is right for your loved one.

What is the difference between a casket and a coffin?

A question we commonly hear at San Tan Mountain View Funeral Home is when it comes to caskets and coffins, “are they the same?” While many Americans use the terms coffin and casket interchangeably, they refer to two different containers used to bury those who have passed away. Primary differences include:

  • the shape. Caskets are rectangular, with four sides, while coffins have six sides and are wider at the shoulders than at the feet.
  • the size. Caskets are generally larger overall than coffins, which means they require more materials to manufacture and are generally more expensive.
  • the lid. Coffins have a one-piece lid while caskets have a divided lid for viewing.
  • popularity. Caskets are more popular in the United States while coffins are typically the container of choice in the United Kingdom.
  • purpose. While both coffins and caskets can be used for viewing or burial, many families choose to rent a casket for the viewing and funeral service and then purchase a less expensive coffin for the burial. Because the burial containers are one of the most expensive components of burial, finding savings here can substantially reduce the overall cost.
  • the cost. Caskets are generally more expensive than coffins because they’re larger and made from more expensive and luxurious materials. The difference in cost will depend on the design, size, and exterior and interior materials used.
  • the history. Coffins were first introduced in the United States in the 1700s, focused on function rather than presentation, while caskets gained popularity later.

Both caskets and coffins can be beautifully made and honor the life that was lost.

What things should I consider when choosing a casket or a coffin?

A number of factors will play a role in the decision between a casket and a coffin.

First, will your loved one be buried or cremated? If your loved one will be cremated, you can rent a casket for the viewing and funeral service. In this case, the cremation container rests inside the casket and then is removed and taken to the crematory.

Second, what is your budget? Caskets range from inexpensive to more costly models and come in a variety of materials. You’ll choose between high-cost materials like cherry, walnut, mahogany, copper, bronze, or stainless steel; options in the mid-price range like maple, birch, or oak; and low-cost materials like willow, poplar, pine, or standard steel. As an added option, eco-friendly options like those made from seagrass, bamboo, or willow wicker are also available.

There are several types of coffins available, too, including traditional wooden coffins, personalized picture coffins, and cardboard, MDF, or wicker coffins.

Next, you’ll have to decide whether you’d like the casket to be “gasketed” or not. Gasketed caskets feature a rubber seal that prevents the elements from reaching the remains and slows the decomposition process.

It’s important to determine the appropriate size for your loved one. Standard sizes range from around five feet long to nearly seven feet long and two or more feet wide. Custom caskets can be ordered to accommodate lengths or widths that are outside the standard range, but it’s important to share that not all caskets are available in custom sizes.

Finally, you’ll have the opportunity to make decisions about the liner of the casket. Popular liner options include velvet, satin, velour, linen, or crepe. Once you choose the material, you may find that you’re able to select from a variety of colors and designs to best suit your loved one’s life and personality.

Does everybody need a casket?

In most cases, a container is required. Exceptions include a natural burial, which involves being buried in the earth without first being placed in a casket or a coffin and is not available in all cemeteries, and cremation. Containers are typically still required for cremation, but they’re much less expensive than a casket or a coffin.

How to buy a casket or a coffin

Your funeral director will provide you with a list of the types of caskets available, ranging in shape, size, material, and cost, and explain the advantages and disadvantages of each option. He or she will assist you in selecting the right casket or coffin for your loved one as you work through the funeral planning process, asking questions to learn more about the life of the decedent, and working to stay within your budget for the service and burial.

Many cemeteries require that caskets are supported by grave liners or burial vaults. The casket is placed in one of these structures to help prevent the ground from sinking under its weight, eventually leading to uneven landscape and helping to better maintain the cemetery grounds. Researching the requirements for the cemetery you choose is important to ensure compliance, and your funeral director can help.

How much do caskets cost?

The cost of a casket varies greatly depending on the materials you choose. While the average price of a casket is just over $2,000, some caskets made of high-end materials sell for over $10,000. We strongly encourage our clients to carefully review all of the options available so they’re able to make a decision that feels right both now and later as you reflect on your experience.

For compassionate, expert guidance as you plan your loved one’s services, reach out to the experienced team at San Tan Mountain View Funeral Home and Advance Planning Center. Whether you’re preplanning to alleviate the burden for your own family, preplanning as you work through the end-of-life of a loved one, or preparing to celebrate the life of someone you’ve already lost, we’re here for you and your family.