Monitored vs. Unmonitored Home Security Systems

You’ve decided to get a home security system— good for you. It’s one of the most important things you can do to keep your family and home safe. Now, the question is: What kind of security system to get?

Security systems come with more options than ever these days, but they fall into two primary camps—monitored and unmonitored. Here’s what you need to know about each to choose the right system for your home.

What is an unmonitored security system?

An unmonitored security system is a blanket term for any system that’s not professionally monitored. That means if an alarm is triggered, you may be alerted, but it’s up to you to contact emergency responders as necessary. Unmonitored systems can be installed by professional companies or you can purchase the equipment and install it yourself. Either way, the systems typically include some or all of the following components:

  • Control panel
  • Window and door sensors
  • Motion sensors
  • Security cameras (indoor and outdoor versions)
  • Smoke detectors
  • Alarms and/or sensors
  • Yard signs

Under the unmonitored umbrella, there are two subcategories—self-monitored and truly unmonitored security systems.

Truly unmonitored systems are much like they sound and come with no monitoring capabilities. Cameras may record activity, and if an intruder is detected, an alarm sounds. However, the only way someone is alerted is if they’re close enough to hear the alarm.

Self-monitored systems, on the other hand, allow you to personally monitor your system’s activity, usually via an app on your smartphone. Alerts are sent to you when activity is detected and allow you to view real-time or taped activity of it. Calling the authorities if a break-in is detected, however, is up to you. Some monitoring features, such as cloud storage of the footage your camera records, may require a monthly subscription fee, but there are no monitoring fees to pay.

Pros of getting an unmonitored system

  1. They cost less
    1. The one primary advantage of unmonitored security systems is that they will cost you a lot less money. While you may have to spend some money on the system upfront to buy the equipment and to have it installed if you so choose, there are no monthly monitoring fees to pay thereafter.

Cons of getting an unmonitored system

  1. They are less safe
    1. Unmonitored systems are better than not having any system in place, but they don’t provide the same level of security as monitored systems. You simply can’t do the same job monitoring your property that a paid team of professionals can do around the clock.
  2. They may not be installed properly
    1. If you install and attempt to monitor the system yourself, you may save a few bucks, but it may cost you the peace of mind knowing that things are set up correctly and continue to run correctly.
  3. They won’t automatically notify the authorities
    1. While you may be alerted that something is amiss at your home and hopefully an alarm will scare intruders off, authorities aren’t notified automatically like they are with a monitored system. It’s up to you to call them. But what if you’re in a meeting or are sleeping and don’t hear the alert? Burglaries happen around the clock, and it’s unlikely that you can properly monitor your system 24/7 like a professional company can.

Check out our picks for the best self monitored security systems

What is a monitored security system?

A monitored system is monitored around the clock by a professional company. If suspicious activity is detected, they will automatically alert you and the appropriate authorities as needed. They typically come with the same components as unmonitored systems, including the following:

  • Control panel
  • Window and door sensors
  • Motion sensors
  • Security cameras (indoor and outdoor versions)
  • Smoke detectors
  • Alarms and/or sirens
  • Yard signs

When it comes to installing monitored security systems, you have two choices—you can purchase and install one yourself and then have a professional service monitor it; or you can have a professional company do it all—install and monitor your system. While installing it yourself may save some money, having professionals take care of everything is easier and may provide more peace of mind, especially if you aren’t particularly technologically savvy.

Pros of a monitored system

  1. They offer a higher level of safety
    1. Monitored systems simply provide greater safety for your home and family. Professionals monitor all activity and respond quickly when anything is amiss.
  2. They guarantee a quicker response from authorities
    1. If break-in, fire or other unwanted activity is detected, authorities are notified immediately with a monitored system. It doesn’t matter if you’re on vacation, in a meeting or sleeping, there’s no waiting—help is sent.
  3. They are installed correctly
    1. Professionally installed and monitored systems provide the utmost sense of security because you know they’ve been set up correctly and are tested and monitored by professionals. You don’t have to worry that you missed a step or will miss an alert.
  4. They could save you money through insurance discounts
    1. It varies by company, but in some cases, you may be able to receive a discount on your homeowner’s insurance if you install a monitored security system. Check with your insurance agent to see if you qualify.

Cons of a monitored system

  1. They cost more
    1. The biggest downside to monitored security systems is the monthly monitoring fee. While prices vary depending on the size of your home, location and type of monitoring, it’s another added monthly expense for which you typically have to sign a contract. However, given the fact that homes without security systems are 300 percent more likely get hit by burglars, it’s an expense that’s well worth it.

Nerd Recommendation

No matter which type of security system you choose, the fact that you’re installing one is a great step. Statistics show that more than 2.5 million burglaries a year occur in the United States, and knowing you’ve done your best to prevent being the victim of one of them can help you rest easier.

If you’re on a tight budget and have the time and ability to monitor your own security system, then an unmonitored security system may be the right choice for you at this point. Monitored systems, however, provide the additional safety, convenience and peace of mind that make them well worth investigating your options to see what type you may be able to afford while still staying within your budget.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Officer Banta.

Officer James Banta

Officer Banta is the official SecurityNerd home security and safety expert. A member of the Biloxi Police Department for over 24 years, Officer Banta reviews all articles before lending his stamp of approval. Click here for more information on Officer Banta and the rest of our team.