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Perhaps no single purchase we will make in our lives is as emotionally wrenching as choosing a final resting place for a loved one. Though many of the departed leave instructions as to where they would like to be buried, relatively few specify the type of casket or coffin they would prefer. This leaves a trying and expensive decision in the hands of the bereaved, who must deal with shock, lack of expertise and a strong taboo against being seen as penny-pinching during such a solemn time.
InMemory exists to support grieving families by making this decision a little easier. We’ve created a first-of-its-kind survey which reveals the prices (and mark-ups) of 70 of the most popular types of casket in Canada, allowing you to compare the rate offered by your local funeral home with their competition nationally. This guide will provide:
- An overview of the most common types of caskets
- Guidance on where to buy caskets
- Tips for buying a casket
- A survey of Canadian funeral home casket pricing
- Introduction to InMemory White Lily Funeral Homes. (This is a list of funeral homes whose casket pricing is substantially lower than other funeral homes).
Before we get into the detail, let’s first define what a casket is. A casket is a container constructed to house a deceased person’s body. They are used during a funeral service for viewing the body, as well as for the burial / entombment of the body or its cremated remains.
Although we sometimes use the terms casket and coffin interchangeably, they are actually different. If you grew up in Canada, when you picture a typical funeral service you likely envision a rectangular, four-sided casket. That is because caskets are used in the vast majority of burials in Canada.
While a coffin has the same purpose, the biggest difference is that it is six-sided, and wider near the top and narrower at the bottom. (Think of the coffins used in old western movies). This shape allows for less material to be used in the construction of the coffin, and thus a lower cost. (We provide this information just as an FYI, as in our research, we don’t see many coffins sold in Canada. We will accordingly stick to the term “casket” throughout the remainder of this article.)
1. Different Types of Caskets
Caskets are most commonly made from the following materials:
Cloth: cloth covered plywood
- Economical choice for families, as costs are kept down via the use of lower-priced materials and construction methods
- Price range: $500 - $2,000
Laminate: hardwood laminated plywood
- This is the most economical option for families wanting a casket with the beauty of hardwood but at a fraction of the cost
- Price range $800 – $2,500
- A very popular, lower cost choice.
- Veneers are thin slices of wood (less than 3mm) which are affixed to a wood base.
- Price range $1,000 - $4,000
- Steel caskets offer superior strength compared to wood caskets.
- Available in a variety of thicknesses, with 16-gauge being the thickest and most expensive. Other options include 18-gauge and 20-gauge (which is the least expensive).
- Price range: $2,000 – $8,000
Solid wood casket:
- Such caskets are typically distinguished in the description by the use of the word “solid” and the absence of the word “veneer”.
- Types of wood include (from most to least-expensive) mahogany, walnut, cherry, maple, oak, poplar, or pine.
- Price Range $1,500 - $9,000
Solid copper or bronze caskets
- The most expensive/prestigious option among “standard” caskets
- Copper and bronze are metals that are naturally resistant to rust and corrosion.
- These caskets are measured by weight: for example, a 32 oz copper/bronze casket means that the metal used weighs 32 oz per square foot.
- Price range: $6,000 – $20,000
With the exception of the steel and solid copper/bronze caskets, most others can be cremated.
Green caskets are made from sustainable materials such as heavy cardboard, wicker (woven from sustainably-grown willow, sea-grass or bamboo) and softwoods such as pine. Biodegradable caskets are also a better choice because they break down more readily in the soil and are therefore acceptable for burial in a green cemetery.
A rental casket can be a good cost-saving option if you want a more traditional option at a viewing or funeral but don't want to purchase a casket. A rental casket has a removable interior. The body is placed in a simple wooden box and the box is placed inside the rental unit, giving the appearance that the body is actually in the casket. In fact, the body never touches the casket, and the wooden box is easily removed after the service. The body can then be buried or cremated in the simple wooden box, while the funeral home can re-use the rental.
Rental caskets typically cost from $900 - $2,000, with most funeral homes pricing on the high side of that range.
2. Where to buy caskets
Caskets can be purchased from funeral homes, specialist casket suppliers and from online retailers (e.g. Costco.ca). Caskets will generally be more expensive at funeral homes versus third-party suppliers. This reflects the fact that funeral homes tend to apply a higher mark-up than their competitors. In our research for this article, we discovered mark-ups ranging from 30% to 350%.
Beyond pricing, some other points to be aware of when deciding where to purchase a casket include:
“Made in Canada” versus “Made in China”
From our experience taking to Canadian families, where the casket comes from is either a significant issue, or a complete non-issue. If your beloved grandfather insisted upon driving domestic vehicles for his entire life, he may have also preferred to be buried in a Canadian-made casket; if he didn’t make too much noise about imports, he probably wouldn’t care either way.
Many Canadian funeral homes appear to have standing relationships with local manufacturers, with companies like Victoriaville, Batesville, and Northern dominating the market. Specialist suppliers on the other hand appear to source most of their product from Asia (particularly China), using brand names specific to their company.
Costco.ca sources its caskets from Walker Caskets, an Ontario family-owned distribution company. As there is no reference on Costco’s website as to where the boxes were actually manufactured (and as at the date of this writing, Walker Caskets’ website was not accessible), it is possible that these caskets are also produced overseas.
It is not uncommon for funeral homes to warn customers off of purchasing a casket that is not manufactured in North America with statements like “the handles will fall apart”, “the bottom is not secure” or “the quality is very poor.” While these comments may be well-intentioned, it’s important to remember the importance of high margin casket sales to a funeral home. If you want to buy a casket from a third party, we recommend simply doing your research: if quality problems exist with caskets supplied by a specific distributor, it’s likely to be reflected in online reviews. Look for a balance between price, reputation and style that suits your needs.
Shipping costs and time frames
If you are looking at sourcing a casket from a third-party, make sure to check how long it will take for the casket to be delivered, and the cost of shipping. If, for example, you are from the GTA and buying from a specialist supplier which has a distribution facility in Ontario, they may be able to provide free shipping (for all but the most inexpensive options) and a promise to deliver the item within 24 hours. However, if you are shipping out of province, the costs will increase, as will the delivery time.
Summary of specialist casket suppliers
Funeral homes’ acceptance of third-party caskets
With caskets generating meaningful profits for funeral homes, some funeral homes will not permit families to bring in a casket sourced from a third party. Alternatively, they may charge a fee to accept the outside casket (which reduces the cost differential) and/or require a representative of your family to be at the funeral home when the casket is delivered.
At the date of this writing, almost all of third party suppliers referenced in the table above state on their respective websites that funeral homes must accept their caskets without charging any additional fees; however, we can find legislation supporting this statement in only two provinces (B.C., Saskatchewan). (Check out our article on provincial regulations governing funeral services for more). With almost all of these third party casket distributors based in Ontario, we reached out to the Bereavement Authority of Ontario for their additional guidance. They replied as follows: "You may buy or rent a casket or provide your own, however a Provider can refuse to accept outside caskets. If you choose to provide your own casket and a Provider allows it, then a Provider may not charge you extra, as long as it is safe, appropriate for the intended use, and meet the requirements of the cemetery or crematorium."
We have reached out to a number of these companies for clarification, but have yet to receive a response. When you look into some of the wording used by the companies on their website, they appear to be based on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule—which, of course, is not applicable in Canada. We find it troubling that companies which are asking you to rely on them for a product that will house a deceased loved one does not take the time to understand provincial legislation and accurately represent their findings on their websites.
3. Tips on Buying a Casket
It’s commonly understood within the industry that when a funeral director brings a family into the casket showroom and steers the family towards three different options, more often than not, the family will choose the price in the middle. That’s fine if the director shows three low-priced options, but potentially more of an issue when the director only showcases higher-end models.
We’ve come up with a couple of basic suggestions we hope will help take some of the stress out of buying a casket, as well as ensuring your purchase decision is as economical and respectful as possible.
What would your loved one have wanted?
If you are shopping for a loved one who has left instructions on the type of casket they would prefer, let that information guide you. Often of course this is not the case. Thinking about the personality and tastes of the person will help you narrow down your choices on casket material, linings, and trim.
Review casket price lists in advance of visiting showrooms
Reviewing caskets online will help you identify the type/quality of the casket that would best meet your family’s requirements, and ensure you don’t have to make a decision on the spur of the moment when in a casket showroom. Some funeral homes will have casket price lists online already. (In fact, our research suggests that funeral homes with online casket pricing will generally be less expensive than those which do not). Don’t hesitate to call a funeral home in advance to ask for their price list. If they won’t provide it to you in advance, then we suggest you look elsewhere!
Don’t be afraid to comparison shop
If you skip ahead to our survey of over 7,000 price points on caskets provided by Canadian funeral homes, you will see that the pricing on an individual casket can vary widely depending on the seller. As an example, right at the top of the list you will see a Northern Apella 70 casket priced for as low as $695—and as high as $1,995! That’s a $1,300 swing for the exact same casket. Our survey includes 70 different models, so it’s a great place to get started.
Set a budget
One of the best ways to ensure you don’t overspend on a casket is to set a budget and then only look at caskets which fall within this range. You will of course be better able to stay within your budget if you already have a specific idea of the caskets you are interested in—before you enter the showroom!
If you don’t need the “extras”, then don’t buy them
The last piece of advice is to be aware that even once you have selected a casket within your budget, you may be presented with the “opportunity” to purchase extras. One example in the context of steel caskets is to purchase a specific rubber gasket or sealer which is supposed to provide an air-tight seal between the lid and the body of the casket. This is sometimes sold as a way to slow the body’s decomposition—yet there are those who write that this actually speeds up the process! In fact, if a casket is going to be entombed in a mausoleum, the cemetery will actually break the seal to prevent accelerated decomposition. In our view, this “extra” has little to recommend it. Other examples of extras include higher-quality lining, memory tubes, commemorative panels etc.
4. Survey of casket prices from Canadian funeral homes
In recent months, InMemory has undertaken one of the largest independent research efforts ever performed on the Canadian funerary services market. We gathered information on funeral parlours across the country, assembling over 7,000 price points on 70 of the most popular models to provide an unprecedented look at how caskets are marketed in Canada.
Our goal with InMemory is to provide Canadian families with the ability to easily conduct online research for funerals and related services, and to support them as they visit homes to make decisions which will best honour their loved ones.
This survey thus has three practical purposes:
- Helping families gain a better understanding of the cost of specific caskets.
- Improving their ability to compare a funeral home’s pricing with that of its competitors.
- Providing leverage to potentially negotiate better pricing.
If the casket you are looking for is not on the list below, it’s because we do not yet have a sufficient number of unique price points from different funeral homes. If you would like a summary of what information we do have on a specific casket (and the manufacturer is one of Batesville, Victoriaville or Northern) don’t hesitate to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org).
5. InMemory White Lily Funeral Homes
Our mission at InMemory is to help customers, but we also believe that in the long term our work will also benefit funeral directors by highlighting those who conduct their business in an ethical and sympathetic fashion. As we completed our survey of casket pricing, we took note of a number of funeral homes which consistently charge substantially below the average pricing levied by other funeral homes. We think these funeral homes need to be recognized!*
We hope that the InMemory White Lily list will some day become a respected third-party seal of distinction that service providers will be proud to bear. In the near future, we will be expanding this list to include other funeral homes once we’ve confirmed that the price lists we have on file for them are up to date.
(If you are a funeral home and believe that you also price well before the market average, please feel free to send us your casket price list at email@example.com for us to review and to make the appropriate determination).
* We’d also like to note that, as of the date of this writing, none of these funeral homes included in the below list have a premium/paid listing with InMemory. We just appreciate ethical business practices - which put Canadian families first - when we see them.
Congratulations from the InMemory team!
Find & Compare Funeral Homes Online
Canada's #1 site for comparing funeral home pricing & reviews