BACKGROUND: Monitoring mosquito population dynamics is essential to guide selection and evaluation of malaria vector control interventions but is typically implemented by mobile, centrally-managed teams who can only visit a limited number of locations frequently enough to capture longitudinal trends. Community-based (CB) mosquito trapping schemes for parallel, continuous monitoring of multiple locations are therefore required that are practical, affordable, effective, and reliable. METHODS: A CB surveillance scheme with a monthly sampling and reporting cycle for capturing malaria vectors, using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention light traps (LT) and Ifakara Tent Traps (ITT), were conducted by trained community health workers (CHW) in 14 clusters of households immediately surrounding health facilities in rural south-east Zambia. At the end of the study, a controlled quality assurance (QA) survey was conducted by a centrally supervised expert team using human landing catch (HLC), LT and ITT to evaluate accuracy of the CB trapping data. Active surveillance of malaria parasite infection rates amongst humans was conducted by CHWs in the same clusters to determine the epidemiological relevance of these CB entomological surveys. RESULTS: CB-LT and CB-ITT exhibited relative sampling efficiencies of 39 and 9%, respectively, compared with QA surveys using the same traps. However, cost per sampling night was lowest for CB-LT ($13.6), followed closely by CB-ITT ($18.0), both of which were far less expensive than any QA survey (HLC: $138, LT: $289, ITT: $269). Cost per specimen of Anopheles funestus captured was lowest for CB-LT ($5.3), followed by potentially hazardous QA-HLC ($10.5) and then CB-ITT ($28.0), all of which were far more cost-effective than QA-LT ($141) and QA-ITT ($168). Time-trends of malaria diagnostic positivity (DP) followed those of An. funestus density with a one-month lag and the wide range of mean DP across clusters was closely associated with mean densities of An. funestus caught by CB-LT (P < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS: CB trapping schemes appear to be far more affordable, epidemiologically relevant and cost-effective than centrally supervised trapping schemes and may well be applicable to enhance intervention trials and even enable routine programmatic monitoring of vector population dynamics on unprecedented national scales.