A security system panel is mounted to a wall inside a home, highlighting the pros and cons between company-monitored and self-monitored security systems

There are several steps you can take to prevent break-ins before they happen, and installing a security system can take your efforts to the next level. Both company-monitored and self-monitored systems can enhance your home security and help deter or catch unwelcome guests, so take a moment to understand the pros and cons of each before you sound the alarms.

Company-monitored security systems

Company-monitored security systems are installed and monitored by professional home security companies. They can include things like cameras, motion detectors, door sensors, glass-break sensors, silent alarms, and not-so-silent sirens to scare off intruders. While each system operates a little differently, a company-monitored security system is usually set up to send a signal to the company’s call centre when someone enters your home while the system is engaged. Then, you’ll receive a phone call to make sure the alarm wasn’t set off accidentally. If you don’t answer or if you aren’t home when you receive the call, the police will be dispatched.

  • You don’t have to worry about monitoring the system or contacting authorities when the alarm is set off, which is helpful if you’re away or out of cell phone range
  • When installed properly, a company-monitored system is usually set up to cover every room in your house, so there won’t be any “blind spots”
  • The alarm itself can scare off burglars as soon as they break in, preventing theft of your belongings and further damage to your home
  • Many run on traditional phone lines or cellular radio and come with battery backups, so they should continue working even if the power goes out
  • Most require you to sign a contract and pay monthly monitoring fees
  • When the alarm goes off by accident, you have to answer your phone and disable it so the police won’t be called — but if you’re not home, you won’t know if there’s an intruder or if one of your kids accidentally tripped the sensor
  • You could be charged for a false alarm if police are dispatched but find no signs of forced entry
  • You have to remember to set the alarm system before you leave the house or go to bed, or it will not be activated


Self-monitored security systems

Self-monitored security systems are exactly what they sound like — they’re security systems you monitor yourself. These can include motion sensors, silent alarms, sirens, door sensors, and security cameras that send text or push notifications or call your mobile phone when they’re set off — and most connect to smartphone apps that allow you to monitor them remotely and give access to neighbours or other emergency contacts. If you receive a notification when you’re not home, you can call 911 yourself or have a neighbour look for signs of a break-and-enter. Some of these systems (like Nest Cam, for example) even come equipped with a speaker, so you can tell the burglars they’ve been caught on camera and police are on the way.

  • Relatively inexpensive after installation (no monthly fees since you’re monitoring the system yourself)
  • Easy to relocate to a different room or new home since you can usually install and uninstall these systems yourself
  • Cell phone alerts notify you when the system has been activated and you can decide whether or not to call the police (avoiding false alarms)
  • Camera systems record videos of intruders, which can be helpful to police when trying to track them down
  • Most need power or Wi-Fi to operate, so they likely won’t work if the power’s out
  • If you’re unable to look at your phone (or if you’re in an area with poor service), you might not receive notifications — so you won’t know to call 911
  • Camera systems alone will only cover rooms where they have been installed, and installing multiple cameras can become expensive
  • Self-monitored systems don’t always include alarms — so while a camera may help police identify intruders and make arrests, it may not do much to scare them off

Picture your self-monitored system in action: You’ve headed up to your cottage for the week, and just as you get comfy in front of the campfire, your phone sounds an alert that someone is inside your house. You open your home security app and see footage of a stranger walking around your living room. You quickly call 911 and then watch as police come in and arrest the burglar on camera (and save your TV and stereo from being stolen in the process).

What about unmonitored alarm systems?

While company- and self-monitored security systems both offer some way of monitoring your home while you’re not there, unmonitored alarm systems are simply intended to scare off intruders as soon as they step foot in your home — but you’ll have to rely on one of your neighbours to call the police if they hear the alarm. While an unmonitored alarm-only system can make quite a racket and scare off those pesky burglars, it’s safe to say that some form of monitoring adds an extra layer of security, whether it’s done professionally or you do it yourself.

Did you know that installing a security system in your home could qualify you for a discount on home insurance? If you’re thinking of installing a new home security system, reach out to your group’s licensed broker to find out how much you could save.

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