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The Pros and Cons of a Mausoleum

by Linnea Crowther

Want to know if a mausoleum is the right choice for you and your loved ones? Here are some pros and cons of mausoleums to help you decide.

What is a mausoleum?

A mausoleum is a building that holds the remains of one or more deceased people above ground. Some mausoleums are built for just one or two bodies, while others are large structures that house many.

After funeral services, the body is placed in a small room within the mausoleum, just large enough for the casket. The room is called a crypt, and the process of placing the casket in the crypt is called entombment.

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Some crypts are designed to hold just one casket, while others are double, allowing spouses or other relatives to be entombed together. 

Some mausoleums include an indoor room for visitors, sometimes with chairs and benches. Some are even climate controlled. Other mausoleums don’t have this option and visitors can only access the outside of the structure.

Mausoleums have been used for thousands of years. Notable mausoleums you might be familiar with include the pyramids of Egypt, the Taj Mahal, and Grant’s Tomb.

Types of mausoleums

There are various types of mausoleums available to suit most people’s needs:

Indoor mausoleum/chapel mausoleum

An indoor or chapel mausoleum includes an indoor area. Typically, this is a room, or series of rooms, in the center of the mausoleum, and it’s surrounded by the crypts where bodies are stored. In a chapel mausoleum, this room will be set up to accommodate funeral services as well as private moments of reflection. But not all indoor mausoleums are religiously focused. In some, the indoor room simply includes chairs or benches where visitors can sit.

Garden mausoleum

A garden mausoleum doesn’t have an indoor room for visitors. The structure is solely made up of crypts, and if you want to visit, you do so outdoors, like you would when visiting a typical gravesite in the ground.

Public mausoleum

A public mausoleum is open to anyone who chooses to purchase a space there. Many families will have their loved ones’ remains there. These can be very large structures, sometimes housing thousands of bodies. But not all are so large; they may have a much smaller number, depending on the cemetery and the style.

Family mausoleum

A family mausoleum, or private mausoleum, is not open to the public. Instead, it’s owned by a single family and is where they entomb their loved ones. These are often smaller than public mausoleums. However, there’s no limit to the size a family can choose for their mausoleum if money is not an issue – a private mausoleum can be a very expensive structure to build.

Single crypt

Within a mausoleum, you may find single crypts or companion crypts. A single crypt is designed to hold just one person’s casket.

Companion crypt

A companion crypt holds two caskets. They may be side by side or one atop the other. This is an option that’s often chosen by couples.

Lawn crypt

A lawn crypt is an underground mausoleum. It’s typically used for two people, such as a couple, although some lawn crypts are just for one. A lawn crypt offers some of the benefits of both underground burial and mausoleum entombment. It’s space saving, as two people can be buried one atop the other, and it’s an option that remains dryer than typical underground burial.

Sarcophagus

A sarcophagus is also used for just one or two people, though it’s above ground, in contrast to the underground lawn crypt. It’s essentially a small version of a garden mausoleum.

Pros of a mausoleum

Privacy and protection from the weather

If a mausoleum includes an indoor visiting area—which many do—you can spend time with a deceased loved one even on a day when you might not want to sit outside. You also have more privacy from others who may be at the cemetery.

Elevation from areas prone to flooding

In places where the water table is high, a mausoleum is a popular solution to frequent cemetery floods. The remains of loved ones are high and dry in a mausoleum even when the ground is wet. This has made mausoleums a common choice in cities like the below-sea-level New Orleans, where underground burial comes with too many flood hazards.

Efficient use of space

Some mausoleums hold dozens or hundreds of caskets in multi-story structures. Using the cemetery’s vertical space means that many bodies can rest in a comparatively small area versus ground burial, where only the horizontal space is used.

Year-round accessibility

In areas where the ground freezes solid in winter, it may be impossible to have a ground burial at certain times of the year. Burials are often delayed until spring in northern climates, as bodies wait in cemetery vaults. Some families find it upsetting to have to go through the funeral ritual all over again when graveside services might take place weeks or months after the funeral. This isn’t an issue if a mausoleum is chosen — entombment can take place any time, even when the earth is frozen.

Good for people who feel uncomfortable with ground burial

For some people, the idea of being buried in the ground is a deal-breaker. If this is something that gives you anxiety or discomfort, you can opt for a mausoleum.


Learn how funeral pre-planning can ensure your final wishes are carried out.


Cons of a mausoleum
 

Potentially more expensive than other options

In some cases, choosing a mausoleum means you’ll pay more—sometimes a lot more—than you would if you chose burial or cremation. Mausoleums designed for just one or two bodies can be extremely expensive, and often are best suited for people for whom price is no object. Entombment in a public mausoleum can be more reasonable, though purchasing space in a mausoleum may still be more expensive than buying a burial plot. There are some situations where the cost of entombment in a mausoleum is comparable to the cost of burial — though it’ll still be more than cremation typically costs. 

Possibility of odors

In a mausoleum, the decomposition process is occurring above ground (note that even if a body is embalmed, it will decompose eventually). And as unpleasant as it is to think about, decomposition involves bad odors and leaking fluids. When a body is buried, the odors of decomposition are hidden away where they generally can’t be smelled, but this is not necessarily the case in a mausoleum. 

A well maintained mausoleum will be properly constructed and ventilated so that visitors won’t smell much, if anything. But if a mausoleum is not constructed as well and/or poorly maintained, you may notice that it smells unpleasant, or that lots of air fresheners are competing with the odor. In some cases, fluids from decomposition can leak out of the crypt and be seen from the outside. 

If you’re considering a public mausoleum, it’s a good idea to visit it first so you can assess whether it’ll be a pleasant place for loved ones to visit. And if it’s a private mausoleum you have in mind, you may want to make plans for how it will be maintained.

Exploding caskets

That’s right — exploding caskets. Another unpleasant truth about decomposition is that a body produces gases as it decays. If it’s sealed in an airtight casket, sometimes the gases can build up to the point that the casket bursts. The lid can be dislodged and it can even knock the marble front off of the crypt. 

This leads to a conundrum for anyone maintaining a mausoleum. If you seal a casket tightly, which is the standard for many, the odors of decomposition are less likely to make it to the noses of visitors — but the casket is more likely to explode. If a casket in a crypt is propped open a bit, it won’t explode, and the decomposition process will happen faster due to air being allowed to desiccate the body. But a propped open casket may release odors that upset visitors. There’s a happy medium available, “burping” caskets that let some gas escape to prevent explosion. This doesn’t prevent smells from escaping the crypt, though.

Not available in all cemeteries

Not all cemeteries have public mausoleums, so if you have your heart set on both mausoleum entombment and a particular cemetery, you may be disappointed. If you can afford the higher cost of a private mausoleum, though, you can generally find a space even in a cemetery that doesn’t have a public one.

Deterioration over time

Like any structure, a mausoleum is victim to time and the elements. It can be damaged in a storm or earthquake, or it can simply deteriorate as it gets older. This can compromise the caskets inside as well as the building itself. Of course, a gravestone marking a ground burial can also suffer damage from weather and time, but it’s a much smaller undertaking to restore or replace a gravestone than to do the same for a mausoleum.

What costs are associated with mausoleums?

The cost of entombment in a mausoleum varies quite a bit depending on what type of mausoleum you choose, as well as where you live.

To be entombed in a single crypt in a typical public indoor mausoleum, you’re likely to pay at least $2,000 to $5,000. In cities with high costs of living when an exclusive mausoleum is chosen, you might pay much more – up to $30,000.

A crypt in a garden mausoleum is generally a little less expensive than one in an indoor mausoleum. And in cases where there are many levels of crypts, with the highest ones well above eye level, you’ll pay more for an easily accessible lower level crypt than for a higher level one that’s more difficult to see.

Having a private family mausoleum built can be an expensive affair. A small private mausoleum might be constructed for $25,000 or more. And for a large private mausoleum with amenities like an indoor visiting area, you’re unlikely to pay less than several hundred thousand dollars – and it could top out at more than a million. However, once a private mausoleum is constructed, the individual crypts won’t need to be purchased by family members, like you would if you were choosing burial in a public mausoleum.

Mausoleum rules and regulations

If you choose entombment in a mausoleum for yourself or a loved one, there may be rules and regulations you need to keep in mind. Since many mausoleums are located on cemetery grounds, the rules are likely to be similar to those you’d follow regarding a ground burial.

It’s likely that visiting hours will be restricted. Some may be open during daylight hours only, while others may have specific open hours that don’t vary based on daylight.

There may also be regulations regarding flowers and other memorial tributes that might be placed in or near a loved one’s mausoleum or crypt. It may be that only certain types of items are allowed, that the size of tributes is restricted, or that they’re only allowed in certain places.

These rules and regulations may apply even if you have a private family mausoleum in a public cemetery.

Before deciding on a mausoleum, it’s best to familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations and make sure you’re comfortable following them.


More on Burial Options

What is a Green or Natural Burial?
Burial or Cremation? How to Choose
Alternatives to Burial or Cremation
How Cemeteries Work

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