Last Updated on October 24, 2016
If you’re like most people, chances are this is the first you’ve thought about what exactly, if anything, you need to know about cremation urns. What is a cremation urn anyways? Are there any requirements for buying or using one? How do you use one? Is there anything you should be aware of?
I remember my first week working for Urns Northwest… I barely knew what cremation was, let alone any answers to questions a customer may have about the urns on our website. In the years since that first week, I’ve picked up quite a bit from quality training, handling the products, talking with others in the funeral industry, researching, interacting with customer inquiries, and even contributing to a blog about funerals, urns, and final arrangements.
So here’s a bit of what I’ve learned – eight things you need to know about cremation urns.
1. A cremation urn is simply a container
An urn is just a container – box, vessel, capsule, etc. – which holds the remains (also called “ashes”) after cremation. If you’re not the sentimental type, you can use a bag or a coffee can. You can make your own from wood, ceramic, or even paper mache. You can have an urn custom made from wood, ceramic, or just about any other type of material.
Our most popular urns are decorative wood boxes with woodcut art scenes of butterflies, lighthouses, country lanes, and other heartwarming themes, with our collections of hand-made ceramic urns and biodegradable eco-friendly vessels close behind. We have cultured granite and marble urns, urns made from metal, paper, sand, and even cornstarch.
There are urns which incorporate the ashes into growing a memorial tree, urns with clocks, urns shaped like turtles, cowboy hats, and golf clubs. Just about any shape, style, or design you can think of has been made into an urn.
2. You don’t have to buy a cremation urn from the funeral home
You can build your own, buy your own, buy from the funeral home, or use the “temporary urn” in which the remains will come from the crematorium. There are no regulations as to what constitutes an urn, and the only laws that exist regarding cremation urns are to ensure that funeral homes do not require or unduly press you into purchasing from them. (You can read the actual laws here.)
Since families can often easily pull up cremation urns online via their smartphones, funeral homes have generally become more competitive in their pricing, more exclusive in their product selection, or both. Funeral homes used to have a (sometimes unfair) reputation for ripping off their customers, but the accessibility of information via the internet has levelled the playing field and helped remove some of the stigma.
So if you find that the funeral home offers an urn that is perfect for you and the family at a good price, go for it. Just be aware that you are free to choose any urn from any provider.
3. You can (usually) rent an urn for the funeral service
This is a great way to get the exact urn you want without having to pay big $$ for expensive overnight rush shipping. Most funeral homes have a selection of nice cremation urns which you can “rent” for use during the memorial service. For a small rental fee, you can avoid the stress and headache of trying to order an urn online, arrange expedited shipping, pay the extra expenses, and make sure that someone is around to sign for the package.
At Urns Northwest, most of our finest cremation urns take several days up to a week to produce and personalize for you. If your memorial service date is approaching, take advantage of our offer of free ground shipping and rent an urn locally. This will save you stress and money while allowing you to receive the exact urn you and your family truly want for your loved one.
4. Cremation urns made in the USA are much, much better
Generally speaking, of course. There are exceptions; while we at Urns Northwest specialize in American-made urns, we also offer a few very high-quality wooden cremation urns which are made in Bolivia and imported into the States. These urns are beautifully made with incredible detail and craftsmanship at truly affordable prices.
On the flip side, the exception here in the USA is that more and more inexperienced or knock-off vendors are attempting to jump into online urn sales, so there are a few items out there which are made in America but have lower-than-expected quality.
But by and large, when you see companies or websites that have been around for a while, are well-reviewed, and offer return policies which stand behind their American-made products, the memorial you receive will be of a much higher quality than the bargain-basement import items you’ll find at major name-brand retailer websites. Check the website’s About Us page or the individual product pages to make sure that you’re getting an urn made in the USA.
5. When sizing, urn capacity, not exterior measurements, is what matters
One question we often receive from our customers is about the urn size. Often, the inquiry is phrased in terms of the measurements of the urn, when what they really are wanting to know is the capacity. Since many urns have decorative accents or edges, exterior dimensions (which are listed on each product page) are not the best way to figure out if the urn is the right size to hold the ashes. Urn capacity is measured in cubic inches, and most standard adult urns are about 200 cubic inches, which will hold the remains of an individual weighing roughly 200 lbs.
For more information on figuring out how many cubic inches you need, click here.
You may be looking for the inside measurements in order to insert the entire “temporary urn” that you received from the funeral home. Since our urns are designed to hold the same capacity as one of those temporary urns, they generally won’t fit inside a standard cremation urn. However, we do have a selection of urns which are intended to hold the temporary urns… just be sure to check the interior dimensions listed on the product pages to ensure that the temporary plastic or cardboard urn.
6. Exterior measurements generally only matter for placement
The exterior measurements can be important depending on usage. If an urn is going to be placed into a columbarium niche, then you will definitely want to make sure that the outside dimensions of memorial urn will fit into the opening.
Or perhaps you would like an urn that fits onto a mantle or shelf, or some other specific location. In these cases, and also just for the sake of having an idea of the physical size of the item you are going to receive, it is helpful to know the exterior dimensions.
The important thing to remember is this: Unless you have a particular placement in mind for the urn, you do not need to worry about the exterior dimensions of the memorial. The capacity of the urn is the determining factor for sizing.
7. Purchasing a cremation urn pre-need is a smart thing to do
There are many advantages to purchasing an urn before you actually need it. If it’s for yourself, you can pick out exactly the one you want while helping your family to avoid the stress of an extra decision and item on their to-do list for arranging the funeral. If it’s for a family member who will be passing soon, purchasing the urn in advance allows them to participate in the selection process if they so choose, and also keeps you from having one more thing to take care of in the days after they depart this world.
Even if you or your loved ones are not planning on dying anytime soon, it is still advantageous to get the cremation urn pre-need. You can easily and safely store the urn in the box in which it comes (our urns are always shipped in well-protected packaging), or, if you’re going with a designer ceramic or wood art urn, you can add the piece to your home decor.
You’ll also save some cash when ordering the urn in advance. Instead of paying the ever-increasing rush shipping costs to get an urn in the days following a death in the family, you can generally get free standard ground shipping and the funeral urn will arrive at your door within a few weeks. This saves you from plenty of headaches, stress, additional choices, and excessive shipping charges.
8. The funeral home will transfer the remains for you
Despite the aforementioned stigma sometimes associated with funeral homes, most are really quite nice. Part of their service involves taking care of the remains for you. And since the law requires them to use any container you choose, they will transfer the remains into the cremation urn of your choice.
But sometimes, if you decide to order an urn online and it shows up a few weeks after everything is done, the funeral home or crematorium will give you the remains in an inexpensive cardboard or plastic box, known as a temporary urn. If you’re uncomfortable transfering the ashes into the permanent urn yourself, you can bring both the temporary and permanent urns to the funeral director and they or their staff will usually complete the transfer in a few minutes without a problem.