One of the choices you find when looking to buy home security systems to protect your home, valuables and family is whether to go with one that is monitored or unmonitored.

As with most things there are advantages and disadvantages in both. There is also a third option and that is a self-monitored alarm system which is normally included in with the unmonitored category.

The equipment is much the same for all the monitoring types except an unmonitored one does not need an auto-dialer to call out when the alarm is triggered.

A home alarm system is either wired or wireless and usually has a control panel (for setting up and controlling the system), window/door contacts, motion sensors and various ways to set and disarm it.

These can be expanded on to include other security sensors – glass breakage sensors, vibration and environmental sensors such as C02 sensors, smoke, water sensors and more.

They also can include home automation features like controlling lights and locking doors.

Monitored Home Security System

A monitored system is one where a professional monitoring company monitors the alarm around the clock receiving notifications from the system when a sensor is triggered and will call emergency services after assessing the circumstances.  The process is:

1.       Sensor is tripped

2.       Notification is sent to monitoring center after the alarm delay has passed

3.       Monitoring center tries to contact owner to determine if it is a false alarm

4.       Depending on their assessment of circumstances emergency services are dispatched

You are normally tied into a fixed term contract and charged monthly for the monitoring service, with Simplisafe2 being the only system I know where you pay a monthly fee and don’t sign a contract. You can cancel at any time without a penalty.

The costs per month vary depending on the company you go with and the service you choose.

A monitored system includes the features you get with an unmonitored system and depending on the level of fee you agree with the monitoring service you can also have the features of a self-monitored system.

Unmonitored System

A system that is unmonitored can also be known as a standalone alarm system. With this arrangement if one of the sensors is triggered the siren will sound but no notifications will be sent out. It is the sound of the siren that alerts the residents and neighbors that there may be danger. If you are away from home you are relying on the sound of the siren to scare away the burglar and the neighbors to call emergency services.

Self-monitored Security System

A self-monitored system sends a notification to the people specified in the setup (the owner is normally the first one notified) of the system when the sensors are tripped as well as sounds the alarm and they are the person who decides what to do at that point. The notification can be by phone call, text message, email or push notification depending on the system. You can set it to only contact one person or a number of people.  It is up to the person notified to assess the situation and decide the next course of action from doing nothing to contacting the emergency services.

Some systems give you the opportunity to listen into what is happening at home when you have been called such as the Fortress Security Store S02B. Other newer products like the iSmartAlarm or SmartThings give you the opportunity to monitor and control the system with your smartphone and use video camera(s) to see what is happening at home. You can set the system up to notify you of the coming and goings at home so you know when your children get home from school or, if they are older, when they are trying to sneak out and much more.


The upfront cost of the systems is similar with the cost of the unmonitored system being cheaper than the other two because there is no need to have the functionality to dial out when a sensor is triggered.
Installation costs will be dependent on the number of attached devices, whether it is wireless or wired and whether it is installed for you or you do it yourself.

However, a professionally monitored system does have the cost of monitoring in addition to the cost of the equipment. Many companies offer deals where they discount the upfront equipment costs to tie you into a 3 year contract or more and effectively use this term to recover the cost of the discount.


Self monitored and unmonitored systems do not require contracts to be signed for monitoring. A monitored system normally requires you to sign (except Simplisafe as mentioned earlier) a long term contract of 1 to 3 years and you can’t cancel without penalties. If you are a renter or looking to move in the near future this arrangement is not really going to work for. You may be able to discuss this up front with the monitoring company to see if it is possible to take the contract and equipment with you to your new location.

Home Insurance

Your insurance company may offer you a discount for your homeowners or renters insurance when you have a professionally monitored system. You need to check with them to find out how much they will offer as it differs from policy to policy and insurer to insurer. (The discount won’t cover the cost of monitoring).
With a self-monitored system you may get a discount but it will typically be smaller in amount and again you need to check with your insurer.


With a monitored system you get 24/7 surveillance. When a sensor is tripped and the alarm is triggered the monitoring center phones you to check if it is a false alarm and will ask you for a pass code before dispatching the police. In addition to this if you are being forced to turn off the siren there is a normally a duress code you can enter on the keypad that turns off the alarm but sends a notification to the monitoring center that you have been forced to do it.  If the system has a panic button they will also respond to this when it is pressed and dispatch emergency services.

You can do this yourself with a self-monitored system but this is dependent on the people you have setup on the system monitoring their phones and knowing what to do. It is advisable to have thought this through before something happens and discussed it with everyone involved.

With an unmonitored alarm the sounding of the alarm is the only notification. You are reliant on your neighbors when you are away to notify the police. Often alarms are ignored these days because people think it is probably a false alarm. And if you live in a remote area your neighbors will not hear it anyway.

In Summary

A monitored system, as long as you have signed up with a good professional monitoring outfit, provides the most peace of mind because you have someone offsite monitoring the system 24/7. But it does come at cost and you are usually tied in to a 3 year contact.

Some people do think a self-monitored system is superior to a professionally monitored one as you are more interested in the outcome and if you have a monitored system the monitoring center will call you before they call emergency services.  You and the people you have programmed to be notified need to be able to be contacted when you are away from home, i.e. not have their phones switched off or ignore the messages or phone calls in order to provide similar coverage to that you get from a monitored service. If you don’t want the cost of monitoring this is very good option.

Unmonitored home security systems do give a good level of protection as the sounding of the siren can be enough to scare away burglars. Also, if you are close to your neighbors and have a good relationship with them, they can check on your house and phone emergency services on your behalf if there is a problem.

Not one of these monitoring options can give you 100% protection and they each have their pros and cons. All three of the options talked about here do give you greater security, more peace of mind and are going to be enough to protect your home in most circumstances. Determining which one is right for you is dependent on your attitude to and your perception as to the risk of intrusion and the cost involved.

Filed under: Buying Advice

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