What Is the Difference Between Monitored and Unmonitored Security Systems?

Quick answer

Monitored security systems send alerts to a central monitoring station. If something goes wrong, someone at that monitoring center will respond to the signal and alert emergency services if needed. Monitored systems are more secure and more hands-off—but they cost more, generally in the form of a monthly fee.

Unmonitored security systems alert you via phone alerts or the control panel—or both—when there’s a break-in or any other incident, and you choose how to respond. Unmonitored systems cost less than monitored systems, but they’re less secure.

Our Choice

Choose a monitored security system if you want better security, even if it costs a little more. Choose an unmonitored security system if you want to save money, even if it’s a little less secure.

Get the details

Monitored and unmonitored home security systems both provide security for your home. While each has distinct advantages and disadvantages, a monitored or unmonitored security system is better than no security system at all.

Which one you should choose ultimately depends on your specific needs. Here’s what you need to know to make your choice.

Monitored security systems

With a monitored security system, you get equipment and monitoring service from your alarm company. In most cases, this means you’ll pay a monthly monitoring fee and sometimes an activation or equipment installation fee, depending on the company. If something triggers your home security system—say your motion sensors go off—someone at your company’s monitoring center will respond, sending emergency services to your home if necessary.

Professional Monitoring Center

This response makes professional monitoring the more secure choice. If your system is armed, the monitoring station will be alerted to any incidents and get you the help you need. They will respond appropriately—whether that’s sending police when your window sensors detect an intruder or sending the fire department when your smoke detectors go off. As the user, all you have to do is arm your security system.

In fact, that’s one of the best parts of monitoring: you don’t have to worry about it. You can rest assured that a central station is monitoring your home, even at times when you can’t. You can attend meetings, swim laps, go to movies, and sleep deeply at night knowing that you don’t have to keep one eye on your system.

Of course, a security system with monitoring will cost more than an unmonitored system. You’ll pay your security company for continuous monitoring service, and you might even have a lengthy contract that can make canceling service difficult. Still, the additional security is likely worth the extra cost. If you want to save money, you can always choose a monitored system that allows for DIY installation.

We feel that paying for monitoring is a wise investment in your security, and we recommend professional monitoring for most people.

  • Pro BulletMore secure
  • Pro BulletWorry-free
  • Con BulletMore expensive

Unmonitored security systems

Most people who choose an unmonitored system do so to save money. With no monitoring fee, a self-monitored system can cost much less than a system with pro monitoring. You’ll still have to pay for the equipment, but you can avoid monthly fees or lengthy contracts.

Plus, you might like the flexibility of a self-monitored system. Several security companies offer equipment for unmonitored systems, and you may be able to mix and match components to create the system you want.

Some unmonitored security systems—but not all—link to your smartphone to send security alerts. If you get one of these alerts, or if your alarm goes off while you’re at home, you’ll choose how to react and who to call.

However, you should carefully consider the downsides of an unmonitored system before you get one. Without a central station monitoring your system, an unmonitored alarm leaves the work to you. When an alarm goes off, you need to both be aware of the incident and decide how to respond to it.

That means that your home could be vulnerable if you, say, don’t have your phone on you or don’t have service. You could miss vital alerts. Likewise, you’ll have to deal with the stress of responding appropriately. Unmonitored systems put the burden of security on you.

While we strongly recommend professional monitoring, we understand the economical nature of DIY home security may appeal to people who want to save money and not be locked in a contract. A self-monitored system is better than no system—just be aware of the potential drawbacks.

  • Pro BulletLower cost
  • Pro BulletEquipment flexibility
  • Con BulletLess security
  • Con BulletMore user responsibility

Protect your home

Interested in a system with professional monitoring? Take a look at Vivint, one of our top picks for the best home security system. In addition to monitoring service, Vivint offers top-of-the-line equipment, flexible payment options, and tons of home automation integration.

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    Vivint does require professional installation. If you’d rather install your own system, check out Frontpoint. You can still get professional monitoring along with high-quality equipment and outstanding customer service.

    If you’d rather choose an unmonitored system, we recommend SimpliSafe. It has options for both self-monitoring and contract-free professional monitoring.

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