What Is the Difference Between Monitored and Unmonitored Security Systems?

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While unmonitored security systems are less expensive than monitored systems, only monitored systems have professionals to help look out for your home and respond to emergencies 24/7.

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Monitored security systems

Monitored security systems are systems that are actively monitored by a professional home security company. When the system detects a break-in, fire, or other emergency, it notifies the security team and, in some cases, emergency responders.

Professional monitoring is convenient

One of the biggest advantages of a monitored system is you don’t have the burden of monitoring the system when you’re away from home. Leaving the monitoring to the professionals may give you additional peace of mind.

Another advantage to monitored systems is if you purchase a monitored security plan, the same company that monitors the system can usually install it for you (though there's often an extra installation fee). If you’re not mechanically inclined, having a professional set up the system may give you more confidence than if you did the work yourself.

Professional monitoring is comprehensive

In many cases, signing an agreement for monitored service means the security provider will supply security equipment free of charge. And the system you get is often more comprehensive than one you’d purchase and install on your own, unless you spend a significant amount of money at the outset.

Frontpoint, for example, offers home automation services, giving you control over your thermostat and electronic locks, and light control as part of their system.

The disadvantage to monitored systems is the cost. You pay for the convenience of having someone else keep an eye on your home security and, while many monitoring plans are affordable, even a modest fee is more than unmonitored systems that charge no monthly fee.

Unmonitored security systems

Unmonitored (or self-monitored) security systems consist of equipment you can have a professional install or install yourself. Equipment can vary greatly between systems, but typical items include a control panel, motion sensors, door and window sensors, glass-break sensors, smoke detectors, and sirens. Some systems are smartphone compatible, meaning that you can monitor the system remotely, even when no one else is.

Unmonitored is economical

The primary advantage of unmonitored security systems is cost. Even if you pay a professional to install your system, it will still be less expensive than a monitored system because most of the cost is in the monitoring service, rather than the equipment.

If you install it yourself, you’ll save even more, and you won’t have to coordinate your schedule to meet the installer at your home.

Though unmonitored systems ultimately prove less expensive than monitored systems, to get the same amount of functionality, your up-front costs may actually be higher. For example, a Nest programmable thermostat costs over $200 up-front.

Unmonitored systems won’t provide the same level of protection for your home, either. Even if your system links to your smartphone, there are times when you may not be in a position to do anything about an alarm going off, like when you’re on a plane, in an important meeting, or in an area without phone reception.

How to find a good home security monitoring service

Some home security companies own their monitoring centers, giving them complete control over the customer experience. Others outsource monitoring and dispatch services to third-party centers and/or use software like RapidSOS.

To be absolutely sure a monitoring center provides top-notch service, look for the TMA Five Diamond certification.

What is Five Diamond monitoring?

The Monitoring Association (TMA) awards its prestigious Five Diamond certification to monitoring centers that meet certain standards:

  • Already have a UL, FM Approvals, or Intertek/ETL listing
  • Continuously undergo and pass surprise inspections by UL, FM, or Intertek/ETL
  • Display exceptional customer service
  • Strive to reduce false dispatches
  • Recertify operators every three years (a new requirement as of 2021)

Five Diamond candidates must also participate in TMA activities and sponsorships, and they must reapply for the certification each year. 

TMA also offers a Monitoring Center of the Year award. Previous winners aren't eligible to win again for three years, preventing the same center from dominating the awards. 

Compare the top home security companies' monitoring

Pro monitoring starts at
Monitoring center
TMA Five Diamond Certified for 2021–2022?
Also known for
Self monitoring option
Learn more
Read review
Vivint (in-house)
Icon Yes  LightYes
TMA Monitoring Center of the Year 2021, 2017, 2012
Icon No  LightNo
COPS Monitoring
Icon Yes  LightYes

TMA Monitoring Center of the Year 2014

Icon Yes  LightYes
COPS Monitoring
Icon Yes  LightYes

TMA Monitoring Center of the Year 2014

Icon No  LightNo
ADT (in-house)
Icon Yes  LightYes
Most years in the business
Icon No  LightOnly with ADT Self Setup
Rapid Response Monitoring Services
Icon No  LightNo
TMA Monitoring Center of the Year 2016
Icon No  LightNo
Rapid Response Monitoring Services
Icon No  LightNo
TMA Monitoring Center of the Year 2016
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon Yes  LightYes
Icon No  LightNo

*Amazon.com price as of post date. Offers and availability may vary by location and are subject to change. Read full disclaimer.

Wi-Fi, cellular, and landline monitoring

There's one more thing to keep in mind when choosing a professionally monitored security system: the strength of your internet connection and cell reception. 

Most alarms communicate with monitoring centers via Wi-Fi. They can use cellular data as a backup, but you usually have to pay extra for this.

If you live in an area with poor internet and cell reception, you may need landline monitoring.
Only ADT and ADT Self Setup offer landline monitoring. 

Final word

If you’re looking for the most peace of mind and convenience you can get, and you can afford to spend a little more, a monitored security system is probably right for you. But if saving money is more important, and you don’t mind the extra responsibility of watching over your system, then an unmonitored security system may be your best bet.

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Cathy Habas
Written by
Cathy Habas
With over eight years of experience as a content writer, Cathy has a knack for untangling complex information. Her natural curiosity and ability to empathize help Cathy offer insightful, friendly advice. She believes in empowering readers who may not feel confident about a purchase, project, or topic. Cathy earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Indiana University Southeast and began her professional writing career immediately after graduation. She is a certified Safe Sleep Ambassador and has contributed to sites like Safety.com, Reviews.com, Hunker, and Thumbtack. Cathy’s pride and joy is her Appaloosa “Chacos.” She also likes to crochet while watching stand-up comedy specials on Netflix.

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