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Questions about Cremation

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What is cremation?

Cremation can be generally described as a method used to reduce the body of a deceased human or animal down to its basic elements. The most common method of cremation involves incineration at high temperatures (1,400°-1,800° Fahrenheit) in a chamber made for that purpose. This process uses a combination of high-temperature burning, vaporization, and oxidation, which reduces the body to its basic compounds. During this thermal-based process, any organic matter (including tissue and bone) is converted to gases and mineral fragments that resemble dry bone.

Alkaline hydrolysis is another alternative cremation process. This process uses water, potassium hydroxide, relatively low heat (177° Celsius, 350° Fahrenheit), and pressure to reduce the body to bone fragments and an inert liquid. However, it is not legal or available in every state.

What is direct cremation?

Direct cremation is immediate cremation with no service of any kind. The cost is usually much lower than other services because there is no embalming, no visitation, no use of funeral facilities or staff. Learn more about direct cremation.

What happens during the cremation process?

The body is first placed in a combustible casket or container prior to going into the cremation chamber. (Some states do not require the body to be placed in a container; in this case the body may be wrapped in a shroud instead.) The cremation chamber is preheated to a set temperature between 1,400 and 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature will be maintained throughout the cremation process.

After the cremation chamber has been fully heated, the container with the body inside is quickly transferred into the heated chamber through a mechanized door. Inside the cremation chamber, the body is constantly exposed to extremely high temperatures from open flames generated by a furnace. It usually takes somewhere between one and three hours to cremate a body completely.

During the cremation process, the container holding the body burns first. Then the heat from the flames dries the body, burns the skin and hair, contracts and chars the muscles, and vaporizes the soft tissues.

The heat then calcifies the bones into mineral fragments, which are collected in a tray or pan and allowed to cool down. Once cooled, the fragments are processed or ground to a consistent granular form, commonly called “cremated remains” or “ashes,” and are then returned to the family in either a temporary container or an urn.

Some non-organic fragments, such as dental work, dental gold, surgical screws, prostheses, implants, etc. will also remain. Metal fragments such as hinges, screws, etc. from the container may also be mixed in with the cremated remains. These metal fragments are removed from the cremated remains using a magnet, and are disposed of in accordance with local laws.

Why has cremation become so popular?

The cremation rate is increasing due to several social, demographic, economic, and religious factors.

  • People travel and relocate much more than they did just a generation or two ago. Ties to tradition are not as strong as they once were. The long-standing tradition of the family plot in the local cemetery no longer holds the same significance that it once did.
  • Cremation is significantly less expensive than a traditional burial and funeral.
  • Cremation has become an acceptable alternative to burial from both a popular and religious viewpoint.
  • Cremation offers portability and greater flexibility in memorialization services in a way that traditional burial cannot match.

Do people choose cremation primarily because of the lower cost?

There are a number of reasons that cremation is increasingly becoming the first choice for final arrangements. While it is true that cremation is significantly less expensive than a traditional burial, other factors also influence the decision process. These factors include:

  • A growing acceptance of cremation, both from a secular and a religious standpoint.
  • A population that is increasingly on the move, with fewer ties to tradition.
  • A growing attitude toward cremation as a more environmentally responsible choice.
  • Greater flexibility in memorialization options.

What is the average cost of a cremation?

Prices are set by the individual cremation providers or funeral homes, and can vary widely from one provider to another, even within the same area. Cremation costs also depend on whether other services are included, the cost of the casket or container used during cremation, and other factors.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), the median cost of cremation with a funeral is $6,078. Direct cremation, which includes no additional services or funeral arrangements, can cost from about $700-$2,300.

What is the average cost of a direct cremation?

In general, when referring only to the cremation process itself, with no additional services or funeral arrangements, you may expect the following average costs. Direct cremation (in which the body is cremated and the ashes returned to the family, with no funeral or other services added) is the most simple, and least expensive option.

Depending on the region in which you live, a direct cremation can run as low as $495 in certain areas (Florida and Nevada, for example). However, in most parts of the United States, the average cost runs somewhere between $700 to $1000. A direct cremation, as defined here, should not cost more than $1500 at the most, regardless of the location.

The best way to find out the average cost of a direct cremation in your area is to contact local
funeral homes and crematories, and ask them for a quote for a direct cremation with no additional services. That way you can compare “apples to apples”. Ask questions to make sure that the price you are quoted is not part of a package, which can significantly increase your cost.

What is the price difference between cremation and burial?

Costs vary, depending on location, provider, and services. The average cost of a burial with funeral services is about $8,508. In contrast, direct cremation, which includes no additional services or funeral arrangements, can cost from about $700-$2,300; a cremation with viewing or a full funeral costs from $2,700-$6,000.

What is the current percentage of cremations versus traditional burials?

In 2016, the number of people in the United States who chose cremation surpassed burial for the first time, rising to 50.2% from an estimated 43.5% in 2012. The number is expected to increase to more than 54% by 2020.

What questions should I ask when looking for a cremation provider?

It is important to remember that not all cremation providers are the same. You should not base your decision on the price alone. You should also make sure you are getting a quote for the complete cost.

Some questions you should ask the cremation provider:

  • Are you a member of any industry organizations, like the Cremation Association of North America?
  • Do you follow a code of ethics?
  • Do you perform your own cremations, and if not, who performs the cremations? Where are they located?
  • Can I schedule an appointment to meet the staff face-to-face and tour your facility?
  • Can I witness the cremation?
  • How soon after receiving the deceased do you perform the cremation?
  • Do you keep the body refrigerated until cremation?
  • Do you require identification of the body prior to cremation?
  • What kind of tracking system do you use to make sure I receive the correct cremated remains?
  • How will you return the ashes, if no urn is provided prior to cremation?
  • What is your policy on holding cremated remains after cremation?
  • How do you dispose of prosthetics and artificial devices?
  • Can I have references of other families you have served?
  • Do you offer any kind of guarantee on your services?
  • Do you offer any options for memorialization or other gatherings of remembrance for my loved one?
  • Is your staff certified and up to date on the proper use of the cremation equipment and care of the body and cremated remains?

Get more information on what to ask a provider and factors to consider from the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) and the Federal Trade Association (FTC) article on Shopping for Funeral Services.

What are “cremains”?

“Cremains” is another word for “cremated remains” or “ashes.”

What is an urn used for?

An urn is a container designed to hold the cremated remains of the deceased, either on a temporary or permanent basis. Urns may be highly decorative or very simple. They come in a wide variety of styles and can be made of bronze, wood, marble, porcelain, brass, and other man-made or natural materials. Some urns are even biodegradable, allowing the ashes to be buried so that they mingle with the soil as the urn gradually disintegrates over time.

Do I need an urn for cremated remains?

If you plan to store the cremated remains, or ashes, permanently, you are going to need an urn or some type of container to hold the ashes securely. If you plan to scatter the ashes at some point in the future, a temporary container may be sufficient as long as it securely holds the ashes.

Can I bring my own urn?

Yes. As the FTC Funeral Rule states, the funeral home cannot require you to buy one of their urns, nor can they charge you extra for using an urn that they didn’t provide.

What is a crematory?

A crematory is a facility that performs cremations of human or animal remains. The cremation process uses a combination of high-temperature burning, vaporization, and oxidation, which reduces the body to its basic components.

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