Headstones are meant to be forever. Monuments that pass the test of time and stand proud and tall for generation after generation to view and to pay honor with remembrance.
However, like all things in this universe, they don’t actually last forever. It might be a slow process but changes do happen and some of these changes might be unwanted and unsightly.
If your loved one’s tombstone has become crooked, or broken, you might be considering having it reset.
Perhaps, someone has suggested this to you, or you have done a bit of researching, but resetting might not be a transparent term and you might not know what it entails.
Furthermore, you are probably, at least to some degree, wondering how much it is going to cost to get it done. This article will attempt to answer some of these concerns for you.
The price of resetting a tombstone is not a cut and draw matter. The price will vary from gravestone to headstone. But a general idea is that the larger it is the most expensive it will be to reset. An average cost might be around $200 but can be greatly increased for more elaborate headstones.
Talking to Katie at rocmemorials.com, she explains that there are several factors that go into creating a quote for resetting a headstone, including presence of debris, flora and the overall upkeep of the monument.
Before we look at costs and the process of resetting a headstone, lets set a few terms straight.
Headstones, Gravestone, and Tombstones
When asking different people, we will get different answers as to what is the difference between a headstone, gravestone, and a tombstone. Some people will use the root words to imply meanings. Such as;
Headstones, are as the head of the grave and are the opposite of footstones. Although this is true, gravestones and tombstones can sometimes be found at the head too.
If you want to learn more about this then check out my article: Is A Headstone Put At The Head Or Feet? Find Out Why
Gravestones are general terms for all stones in the graveyard. Again true, but headstones as defined above, are pretty general in most cemeteries also.
Tombstones, mark the entrance to a tomb. Again true, but tombs, although are defined as vaults, do not necessarily need to be vaults underground that the living can enter. They might simply be concrete graves – normal graves that have concrete walls.
The point being is that although the terms can lead to confusion, we here will differentiate between the scale of the marker and not the type.
Therefore, we might use these three terms interchangeably but for the most part, we will stick to the term headstone. A good guide is, the more stone present, the most work that may be required, all other things equal.
The Ups and Downs
The three terms mentioned in the previous section ignored the concept of vertical and horizontal stones.
Vertical headstones are the type that stand upwards perpendicular to the ground and thus may have a silhouette with the background. Horizontal headstones are the type that sit flat on the ground like a plaque. Vertical stones tend to display unwanted movement much more prominently than horizontal stones and tend to be reset much more frequently than horizontal ones.
Additionally, they are more complicated and thus require more expertise to reset. Furthermore, they tend to contain more material, and based on our guide, the bigger they are, the most they cost. Considering their complexity and size, we can say that vertical usually cost more than horizontal stones to reset.
For the remainder of this article, when headstone is mentioned, we are referring to the vertical type, unless otherwise mentioned.
Resetting the Headstone
What resetting a headstone entails can be broken down into a few categories. Each of these will entail a different cost.
You can consider the next division as a division of damage. How much work is it going to take to “reset” or set the headstone straight? Generally, resealing will be cheaper than releveling, and releveling will be cheaper than replacing.
Keep in mind that resetting the headstone implies that an effort to maintain as much as the original headstone as possible will be attempted.
Resealing the Headstone
Resealing the headstone is the process of trying to reconnect the actual marked stone to the foundation. Often times the two materials might be different, and the stone is of a more valuable material than the foundation, but sometimes they are the same.
There can be many reasons why the lack of a seal is an issue and many causes. Let’s start by talking about the causes.
Water freezes and becomes ice. Ice takes more space than water. The smallest crack in the seal between the stone and the foundation will allow rainwater, and water used to feed the grass, to get in between the stone and the foundations.
This water alone can cause the stone to loosen its grip on the foundation. If that water freezes, as it would in northern locations, the effect is worsened.
Another way the seal might break is by a shift in the base. Perhaps the foundation shifts due to a land change, or even an earthquake. This can cause the headstone to lean, and then gravity pulls at it relentlessly and the seal cracks and breaks.
A seal that is damaged significantly can allow the actual stone to shift and move about more easily on the foundation.
The longer a broken seal is left unchecked, the more potential damage that can be caused. Since resealing a headstone, is generally cheaper than the other issues, its best to stay on top of this issue.
If you have caught the issue early enough, then you can even DIY this process yourself by using a generic stone sealer which you can get from a hardware store or even online, even Amazon has some great deal for this type of product.
However, you might want to double-check with a professional before doing anything yourself.
Releveling the Headstone
In the section above, we mentioned that a dis-leveled stone can cause a seal to break. Well, an unleveled stone is its own issue to consider and will require correction of its own.
A crooked headstone is unsightly, and some graveyards might even require owners to correct this issue in a timely manner. In most cases, the earth under the foundation has shifted and the heavy foundation as sunk on an angle.
Consequently, the headstone is also on an angle. Alternatively, but less common, is that the headstone seal has broken and a shift in the stone on the foundation has caused the weight balance to go off and then the foundation has thus sunken on an angle again. Another possibility is that the headstone has just shifted to a part of the foundation that is not level.
As you can see, there are many possible reasons for issues to arise and this is why it is so hard to get a set price for resetting.
In some of these cases, the resetting crew and simply move the headstone back into place on the foundation and reseal it. But usually, the foundation will need to also be adjusted and this will require special tools that can hoist the foundation and perhaps even the stone, while the ground underneath is adjusted and reset.
Then the foundation can be released back into place. These are usually quite heavy things and the operation is not something that can be done in an hour with a garden shovel.
Replacing the Foundation
In the worst-case scenario (that we will discuss here) is that the foundation is actually damaged. Perhaps the shift in weight or the shift in under-support of the ground has cause gravity to actually damage the foundation with cracks or even breaks. In this case, the foundation will be required to be replaced.
To do this, the crew will have to remove the headstone from the foundation, if it is still attached. Then they will need to dig up the damaged foundation and remove it. Reset the actual ground, if it is an issue (which it most likely will be). Then they will need to reinstall the new foundation after it has been designed and cut to size.
Following this, the headstone will need to be replaced on the foundation making sure it is balanced. And then the headstone must be resealed to the foundation. Sounds like a lot of work? Well, it is, and generally, it can’t be done in a single day. Multiple days work, increased materials needed, both add up to big costs. You can expect that this issue will be substantially more costly than simply resealing.
If the foundation is of an expensive material then this will further this cost even more. It might be a time to consider a cheaper, but maybe harder and more durable option.
Why Should You Do It
Having gotten a taste of the costs that can be incurred when resetting a headstone, some people might be considering the validity of even doing it in the first place. After all, the loved one is gone. Here, I would like to layout a few justifications for paying the cost of resetting a disheveled headstone.
As touched on above, some cemeteries might require you to adjust a crooked headstone. The managers of both private and public cemeteries try to maintain a welcoming, peaceful, and, dare I say, beautiful scene for people to visit.
Being able to visit the grave of lost ones is the service that graveyards provide. If the place looks unkempt and has the appearance that the manager does not care, it might rub off on the visitors, and they might not care anymore either.
It might sound insensitive to say that people won’t visit their lost loved ones because of base issues like the decor of a graveyard, it is safe to say that people would rather go to a nice place than an ugly place.
A side service that some graveyards offer is a public place for strolling. If the graveyard is a well-maintained place, some people might take the opportunity to use the graveyard for reasons other than grieving lost loved ones. Keep in mind we are only talking about short walks and not picnics and baseball games.
For these reasons, some graveyards require that headstones be maintained to a certain degree, within reason. And some graveyards are more strict than others.
Respect for Others
Maybe your graveyard does not have any regulations, but you’re still in a public lot. Then another consideration is the idea that other people are maintaining their share of the graveyard, and by neglecting your share you are paying others a disrespect.
If your headstone is the only headstone on in the cemetery that is cracked, leaning, or even fallen over, other people might be offended.
Keep in mind also that your family name is clearly displayed on the headstone, in most cases, and thus you are not only disrespecting others when you neglect your share, but you are also inviting animosity toward your entire family.
Avoiding Further Costs
Maintenance is as sure as death and taxes. If you have anything in life, you most likely will need to partake in maintenance – the exception being when dealing with disposable items.
Headstones are built to last, in most cases, but as outlined above, they do succumb to damage and require repairs. By repairing a cracked seal, we might be avoiding a need for a releveling further down the road in the same way that maintaining the oil in your car will help to avoid having to do major repair work on the engine.
Try to be proactive and pay a little now for small repairs in the hope that they are sufficient. Pray that major land movements do not follow which can then require you to engage in more expensive major repairs.
For more information on how you can keep a headstone clean, and therefore avoid future maintenance issues, please read my full article here.
A leaning headstone is an accident waiting to happen. He has gravity constantly pulling on it and it will eventually either fall completely, or crack in half and tumble to the ground.
The cost of replacing a headstone, or attempting to actually repair one that has cracked in half is not considered here, but we can say it is not cheap.
There is also the safety issue, things that want to fall, tend to fall. And lady luck sometimes chooses to place people in the line. A foot that attempts to catch a huge stone can certainly be a foreshadow of a terrible time. And what about children. Children love to play, regardless of where they are.
Even in a serious place like a graveyard, a child might attempt to jump, run, and even climb things the shouldn’t if left free to do so. A child that adds his weight to that of an already heavy leaning headstone, might be the straw that breaks the donkey’s back.
I would certainly not want to hear of a child trapped under a large headstone that has fallen.
Some religions and cultures place honoring the dead as paramount. In Mexico, for example, they have the Day of the Dead.
In their belief system, the living are required to remember the dead in order for the dead to endure. If they are forgotten, they cease to exist. Although they do not specifically require the maintenance of headstones, doing so will certainly allow a family to spend some time considering their lost loved ones.
In many Asian cultures, for example, in China and Taiwan, they celebrate a national holiday called Tomb Sweeping Day where families reunite to perform maintenance on graves and tombs and to pay respects and remember ancestors.
Perhaps your religious or cultural beliefs do not have these requirements, and maybe you don’t agree with the beliefs of other cultures in general. That being said, it is hard to disagree with finding time to remember lost loved ones and to get a little maintenance done at the same time.
Who Can Do It?
Generally, we would suggest you find a professional to do any major work. The more complex the job, the more likely you will need a professional. Some graveyard regulations might require a professional for safety reasons. You will need to check with them.
Another consideration is that specific tools might be required like the hoists for heavy stones, and buying these tools might make hiring a professional the cheaper option.
Furthermore, professionals usually stand behind their work. They know how to do things right and some guarantee their work. Peace of mind does come at extra cost, usually, but for some, it is certainly worth it.
Lowell Herzog runs Gravestone Conservation out of Texas. On his website, he talks a bit about the service of resetting and even goes so far as to give quotes (although they range greatly, from $70 to $1000) with the bolded and underlines caveat
“Even though I have posted ‘usual’ costs, I still quote work on each stone on a case-by-case basis.”
I wish we could give you a set price list type menu but there are so many factors to consider when a price is calculated.
The variables make set prices an impossibility. The best advice I can give is to keep in mind that the larger a headstone is, the more expensive repairs will be. And the extent of the damage the more expensive repairs will be. It’s like a combination of these but there are also other factors like materials.
As a suggestion, I think you should make sure you find a contractor that is willing to give free quotes and maintain honesty for extra costs that might be unexpected.