Precast Crypt and Niche Systems: An Update

By: William R. Toson

Several years ago two of my colleagues collaborated on an article comparing precast crypt structures to those manufactured using the “poured-in-place” system. John Baer and Ed Czorniak did an excellent job comparing the technical and logistical aspects of both systems. All in all, most readers considered the presentation to be a fair exchange of viewpoints.

I do recall, however, the article causing a bit of a “stir” in the industry. Individuals in support of both manufacturing processes were asked to debate the benefits at state, regional and national meetings. Nearly 20 years later, the debate continues, but not surprisingly, both systems have found their place in our industry.

Preferences toward each system have become regionalized. Manufacturing of the precast system is concentrated among a few companies located in the Midwest. Predictable, precast crypt and cremation niche systems enjoy their largest market share throughout the upper Midwest. This is undoubtedly due to the concentrated marketing effort by precasters in this region and the cost of delivering product outside the region.

Broader use of the precast system is solely dependent on opening more production facilities in other parts of the country. The proliferation of poured-in-place contractors, however, ensures concrete crypts will remain a commodity item and, therefore, sensitive to price. This competitive environment has a chilling effect on technical evolution and capital investment in modern production facilities.

That said, there have been notable changes in the way precast mausoleum crypts have been manufactured, delivered to the site and installed. The size of the crypt chamber opening has become relatively standard and is approximately the same in size as poured-in-place. During the early years of precast crypts, the size of the opening was minimal and prevented some caskets from fitting into the chamber. Today, select precast manufacturers even offer oversized crypts to accommodate the largest of caskets.

Care has bene taken to improve the overall finish of the crypt and niche. The aesthetics of the crypt and niche has become important due to an increase in the number of clients choosing to view the entombment or inurnment. Manufacturers may also offer sealer plates with the name and logo of the particular cemetery.

When first introduced, precast crypt systems were primarily used for smaller, garden-style buildings. Advanced engineering and manufacturing techniques have been given precast cemetery products superior strength that supports structural loads of two and three story buildings. Today’s precast cemetery products are effectively utilized in large chapel buildings, as well as small feature mausoleums.

Breaking the typical square or rectangular shape, precast crypts enable buildings to be designed with a curve. The slightly rounded radius shape eases the rigid lines of the mausoleum and adds to its interest.

Ventilation of the chamber continues to be a major issue when comparing systems. Most precast crypt manufacturers have discovered more ventilation is better. Either two or four, two-inch vent holes are typically incorporated in the back of each chamber. These holes are large enough to ensure they will not become blocked by insects of foreign materials. Our company offers a patented screen that is inserted into the vent at the time of the entombment—again, helping to prevent insect infestation while allowing for a strong exchange of air to the plenum chamber behind the crypt.

The plenum chamber maintains an exchange of air. Air is taken in at the base of the chamber while ventilators mounted in the roof remove the air. Ventilators can be simple “spinner” type units operated by wind flow or motor driven fans regulated by times. The critical point remains, the precast crypt system permits the cemetery to “manage” the exchange of air in the crypt chamber.

Precast companies have also gotten “educated” as to how to efficiently ship their cemetery products. Contract haulers who utilize air ride trailers are typically employed to transport 35 to 42 units per load. Give sufficient lead time, the outside trucking companies coordinate backhauls of other cemetery products, thus reducing delivery costs. Maintaining strong supplier relationships with reliable contract haulers enables precast companies to efficiently ship cemetery products over extended distances.

One of the main selling points of utilizing a precast system has always been the fact that precast buildings are faster to erect. Actually, this is not always the case. What is true is the fact that the time to erect the crypt system on-site is substantially less than poured-in-place simply because the crypt was manufactured in a remote facility, the concrete was properly cured during storage and the final product was brought on site ready for erection. The reduction in heavy vehicles using cemetery roads is a distinct advantage for most precast clients.

In recent years, a few new systems utilizing plastic lined crypts and even “racking systems” (for lack of a better term) have been introduced. While it is too early to evaluate the acceptance these systems will enjoy, the introduction of new concepts and advances in technology will have a positive impact on our industry. Just as families who utilize our cemeteries demand a choice in products and services, so do cemetery clients who create the structures and sell the products.