Monitored Vs. Unmonitored Home Security Systems: What’s the Difference?

Cost, convenience and flexibility are among the key issues to consider when deciding whether or not you need 24/7 home security system monitoring.

It’s natural to want to protect your home, where the people you love live and all your belongings are. One major decision you’ll need to make is whether to choose security system monitoring, or if you’re comfortable self-monitoring a security system.

What Is the Difference Between a Monitored and Unmonitored Security System?

Monitored systems are available from large security firms and some local companies. They cost more than unmonitored systems. While part of that cost can be attributed to rental of the physical sensors, cameras and controls, what you’re really purchasing is the monitoring service and the peace of mind that comes with it.

A monitored system connects to an external third party that looks out for suspicious activity, potential criminality and break-ins. If criminal activity occurs, the provider will take action, usually by alerting law enforcement. The company will also let you know what’s happening and what measures are being taken.

With unmonitored systems, you typically purchase the monitoring devices outright or in monthly installments. While unmonitored systems likely won’t synch with an ever-present third party, the majority connect to the internet and offer a companion smartphone app, allowing you to keep tabs on your property remotely.

Some also let you save recorded video locally or in the cloud, often for a monthly charge. Amazon Ring security devices offer a paid plan that stores footage in the cloud for 60 days, an upgrade from their free basic (and storage-free) service.

Pros and Cons of a Monitored Security System

Pros of a monitored home security system:

  • Convenience: Monitored systems require little maintenance and no self-monitoring.
  • Insurance discounts: Some insurance companies offer discounts of up to 20 percent if you use a monitored security system.
  • More options: Security providers offer more high-quality sensors and cameras than typically available on the consumer market.
  • Speed: Monitored systems react faster to incidents.

Cons of a monitored home security system:

  • Cost: Ongoing monthly or annual costs, which can be considerable.
  • Not DIYable: Many monitored systems require professional installation and access to landlines. However, some newer companies, like SimpliSafe, offer a monitored system that can easily be set up by the homeowner.
  • False-alarm charges: Depending on local regulations, you may be charged for false alarms.
  • Less flexibility: It’s typically not possible to downgrade a monitored system to an unmonitored one, as the devices are offered as part of the subscription package. Also, contracts often lock you in for one year or several.

Pros and Cons of an Unmonitored Security System

Pros of an unmonitored home security system:

  • Affordability: Unmonitored systems cost less than monitored systems, especially in the longer term.
  • DIYable: System installation is usually straightforward and non-invasive. If self-installation is a “con” in your book, you could always hire an independent professional.
  • Privacy: There are no third parties actively monitoring feeds, though Internet-connected devices pass video feeds and other data through third-party servers.
  • Control: You control preventive and protective actions.
  • Versatility: It’s typically possible to install self-monitoring systems connected to the Internet or opt for a more traditional alarm-based option.

Cons of an unmonitored home security system:

  • WiFi dependent: For unmonitored systems to be effective, you need a reliable internet connection.
  • Attention: You’re monitoring the system, so you need constant access to the security app.
  • Data sharing: The company can access your data and sometimes shares it with law enforcement, without your input or knowledge.

Choosing Which Type Is Best for You

When considering a security system for your home, look for a balance between cost and convenience.

Monitored systems are best for people who own their homes and value convenience enough to pay a monthly price for it. You aren’t responsible for checking in on your property or responding to emergencies. However, this comes with an ongoing and often considerable cost.

Unmonitored systems are best for renters or homeowners seeking to minimize monthly spending. Those choosing an unmonitored system should also be comfortable acting as their own home security team, from monitoring to taking action in the event of an emergency. That means always being connected to the app through their phone or other device.

James Frew
James is a freelance technology writer with over five years experience in consumer technology. He specializes in helping you find the right products for your needs and how best to use them. With an interest in sustainability and environmentalism, he is also focused on helping extend the longevity of your smart gadgets and whether you can repair them to reduce ewaste.