What Is the Difference Between Monitored and Unmonitored Security Systems?

Chloe Gawrych
Researcher & Writer
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Published on August 12, 2021
4 min read

At a glance

If you just moved or are planning on moving soon, ensure your new home is safe with a top-notch security system. There are two types of home security systems to choose from: monitored and unmonitored. Both provide home security, but there are a few key differences:

Monitored vs. unmonitored security systems

Monitored security systems
Unmonitored security systems
Icon Pros  LightMore secure
Icon Pros  LightLess expensive
Icon Pros  LightLess hands-on
Icon No  DarkLess secure
Icon No  DarkMore expensive (monthly fees)
Icon No  DarkMore user responsibility

Of course, there are a lot of factors that might make either type of security system work better for you, and budget is a valid concern. Also, even an unmonitored system is better than no security system at all. Keep reading to get the full scoop and decide if monitored or unmonitored security is the right choice for your new home.

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Pro Tip

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. Learn more and compare home security costs from top-rated providers.


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 or a security camera sees something—someone at your company’s monitoring center will respond, sending emergency services to your home if necessary.

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.

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.

Man and two women at working in an home security monitoring center

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.

Paying for monitoring is a wise investment in your security, and we recommend professional monitoring for most people.


Unmonitored security systems

Unmonitored security systems alert you instead of a security company when there’s a break-in or any other incident, and you choose how to respond.

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 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 professional monitoring is the best way to go, 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.

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Top picks for home security systems

Interested in 24/7 professional monitoring for you and everyone else in your household? 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.

Vivint does require professional installation. If you’d rather install your own system when you move in, 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, consider SimpliSafe. It has options for both self-monitoring and contract-free professional monitoring.


Frequently asked questions

What is passive home security?

Passive home security systems—also known as unmonitored home security systems—use equipment like security cameras, smoke detectors, and motion detectors to surveil your property. If something is amiss, your passive security system will alert you via your phone or a control panel. After you get the alert, it’s up to you to call the authorities if there’s an emergency.

What is active home security?

Active home security systems are also called monitored home security systems because in addition to paying for your equipment, you also pay a professional security company to monitor your home for you. If something trips your alarm system, the notification is sent to the security company instead of your phone, and it will send the authorities if necessary.

Can I use my home security system without monitoring?

Yes, you can use an unmonitored security system instead of a monitored one. Keep in mind, though, that while unmonitored security is much cheaper, it’s also less secure than monitored security.


Recommended resources

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Chloe Gawrych
Written by
Chloe Gawrych