Monitored vs Unmonitored Security Systems (Which is Better?)

One of the ways security systems can be categorized is by how they are monitored.

Arguably this is one of the more important aspects anyone interested in getting a security system has to look into and decide on.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages and what they mean to you as a homeowner or renter is of utmost importance.

Monitored vs Unmonitored Security Systems

What Is a Monitored Security System?

A monitored security system is a security system that is being actively monitored by a trainer security team. If an alarm is triggered, the security team is immediately notified.

The owner is usually directly notified by both the security system itself and by the security team.

The security team can also contact the relevant emergency responders if the owner confirms this is an emergency or they cannot get a hold of the owner.

Here’s how everything works.

Monitored security systems usually do not directly contact the police, fire department, or any other emergency service. Usually, upon a triggering event, everything is routed through the security company’s monitoring center. At this point, they will contact the owner of the account. If the owner is unreachable, they will try calling the people on the owner’s emergency contact list.

When they get in touch with somebody, they will inquire what to do and whether it is a real emergency, at which point they can contact the emergency responders.

Usually, if they cannot get in touch with anybody, they may contact the relevant emergency responders.


What Is an Unmonitored Security System?

Unmonitored security systems (also known as self-monitored security systems) are not actively monitored by a professional security company.

The owner of the unmonitored security system is responsible for monitoring their security system—which is typically done through an app on a smart device or a website—and contacting the relevant authorities if there is a real emergency.

Many of today’s unmonitored security systems are designed to work with smartphones, tablets, and computers in order to allow the owner to keep an eye on the system and get notified if there is a triggering event.


Difference Between Monitored and Unmonitored Security Systems

The difference between monitored and unmonitored security systems is how they work. Monitored security systems are monitored by a security company that can notify the emergency services even if the owner is unavailable. In comparison, unmonitored security systems leave everything up to the owner.


The costs associated with running a self-monitored security system vs. a monitored security system differ significantly.

Unmonitored security systems are almost always associated with less running costs. Since the owner is the one doing the monitoring, there will usually not be any subscription fees. However, although many security companies offer self-monitoring options at zero additional cost, some companies charge monthly fees even for their unmonitored security systems.

With monitored security systems, you will have to pay monthly fees for the active monitoring provided by the security company. Fees can vary from as little as $5 to upwards of $65 per month.



Monitored security systems are more convenient than unmonitored security systems.

Since a professionally trained team actively keeps tabs on the security system in an emergency, they are sure to act, notifying the owner or the relevant authorities. However, with unmonitored systems, an emergency can happen without the owner finding out in time, and the authorities may never be notified.



One of the major differences between monitored and unmonitored security systems is that unmonitored systems may lack some important features.

For example, self-monitored security systems may offer limited or no video storage, lack cellular backup, or video verification.

All of these can lead to potential problems.

For example, no cellular backup means that your unmonitored system will not be able to notify you if something happens if your Wi-Fi is out. Not having video history could spell trouble if you have to review old footage looking for evidence. And video verification is important as many emergency responders require some sort of verification before dispatching a unit.


Insurance Discounts

Depending on the insurance company you are working with, what kind of insurance discount you get, if any, can vary.

Some insurance companies will offer bigger discounts if you have a professionally monitored security system as opposed to an unmonitored one.

Other insurance companies will outright refuse to give discounts for unmonitored security systems, while some may offer the same discount regardless of what security system you are running.


Peace of Mind

With a monitored security system, you know that someone actively keeps track of your security system 24/7.

Even if you are at work, sleeping, out of town, taking a shower, on a plane, having fun at a concert, swimming, or being in an area without reception, you will not necessarily have to worry about missing an alarm notification.

Although an agent from the monitoring team will still try to get in touch with you to confirm the alarm, they will normally contact the relevant authorities if they cannot get a hold of you.

The neat thing is that some companies offer short-term monitoring subscriptions, allowing you to switch between unmonitored and monitored services.

This can be very useful if you are going on a vacation and would like to not worry constantly about whether or not you will miss an alarm notification from your security system.


Is a Monitored or an Unmonitored Security System Better for You?

Many security companies are offering different monitoring plans with different features at different prices. And often, security companies leave it up to their client to choose whether they want to go with a monitoring plan or not.

However, some of the more budget-friendly security systems can be limited to self-monitoring only.

At the same time, some security companies may not be offering any self-monitoring options at all or may require their clients to pay monthly fees even if they choose to go with a self-monitoring plan.

Both monitored, and unmonitored security systems may require professional installation or be DIY depending on how they are designed. Some security systems are simply more difficult to install and may require a certified technician to install them, while others will be easy to set up and will not require any special skills on behalf of the owner.

Having a security system installed by a professional technician usually means paying installation costs, while in comparison, you will not have to pay anything for DIY security systems since you will be the one carrying out the installation.

However, the possible downside is that there is a certain room for error. And installing the system incorrectly can affect the system’s effectiveness and reliability.

That being said, with monitoring security systems, it is important to read all the details very carefully as there may be some limitations as to what the security center can do on your behalf. Some security centers may be authorized to only call the police in case of intrusion but not the fire department or the paramedics.

Another thing to consider is how quickly everything can happen. A monitoring security system does not guarantee faster response times. In many cases, the monitoring team may have to try and get in touch with you before calling the emergency responders, which could take precious minutes. It is not uncommon for emergency responders to be notified with a 2 to 10-minute delay.

Typically the equipment offered with monitored and unmonitored security systems may not vary much, but that depends on the security company and what they offer. Often unmonitored systems simply lack some features. So it is important to read the descriptions very carefully and ensure you are getting exactly what you are looking for.

Typically security systems include:

  • A central control panel or hub
  • Security cameras
  • Door and window sensors
  • Glass break sensors
  • Motion detectors
  • Smoke detectors
  • Sirens
  • Garage door openers
  • Video doorbells
  • Smart locks and deadbolts
  • Smart thermostats

Regardless of what system you go with, keep in mind that in many cities and counties, owners are expected and required to have an alarm permit if they are going to operate monitored or self-monitored security systems. Not owning an alarm permit could result in hefty fees, and authorities may respond slowly or not respond at all to an alarm.

In addition, sometimes emergency responders require video verification before dispatching a unit.

Monitored security systems usually are not connected to the police or fire departments and do not notify them directly. A monitored security system simply means that someone monitors all alarms and makes sure they are not overlooked.

Unmonitored security systems are more economical and geared toward people working on a budget, do not mind the added responsibility of keeping tabs on the system, and may not really want something too comprehensive. In comparison, monitored security systems are best for people that do not mind spending a little more every month for extra peace of mind and convenience.

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Edward Clark
Edward Clark, with 15 years of hands-on experience, is a distinguished expert in smart locks and home security systems. He holds a B.S. in Computer Engineering with a focus on Cybersecurity and is a member of the Electronic Security Association (ESA). His credentials include certifications from ASIS International, IAPP, CompTIA, NTS, and CEDIA. With expertise spanning risk management, electronic security, and data privacy, he's been featured in The Guardian, Forbes, Wired, and more. Edward's mission: guiding individuals toward secure homes using the latest technologies.

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