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AC Struggling in the Arizona Heat Wave? Here Are 4 Quick Fixes

As temperatures in the Phoenix area skyrocket from 115º F to 120º F, your AC may be struggling to keep you cool.

But why is that? Shouldn't the AC work well no matter the temperature?

Well, think of it like this: In the summer, your home is constantly gaining heat and your air conditioner is working like a heat sponge: it’s constantly absorbing that heat and dumping it outside.

Related article: What Does an Air Conditioner Actually Do? (And Why it Matters)

But, if your home gains heat at a rate that’s higher than what your AC can dump outside, your system will struggle to meet your desired temperature. In other words, heat coming in is exceeding the heat going out.

That’s why your thermostat may read 80 when you have it set on 75.

So, with that in mind, you can do 2 things:

  • Reduce the amount of heat getting into your home
  • Help your air conditioner work more efficiently

While there are tons of things you could do to accomplish both, we’ll give you some quick and dirty things you can do right away.

1) Close the blinds and drapes

Your windows are basically giant heat portals. The more heat they let in, the harder your AC has to work. So to prevent heat gain, close blinds and drapes in windows that get direct sunlight.

You get bonus points if you have medium-colored drapes with white-plastic backing, which can “reduce heat gains by 33%”, according to energy.gov.

2) Change the air filter

Dirty Air Filter

Imagine that you’re running a marathon in the middle of the desert with a sweater on your head. That’s what it’s like when your air conditioner tries to run in the summer with a dirty filter.

A dirty filter adds resistance and slows down airflow, causing the AC to:

So if your filter looks like the one on the right in the above picture, change it ASAP.

Related article:Has Your Air Conditioner’s Air Filter Betrayed You?

3) Open all your air vents

Vents

Do you have any unused rooms where you’ve closed your air vents? Well, it’s time to open those bad boys up, because closing them isn’t doing you any favors. In fact, closing them actually makes the AC runs worse! This also applies to furniture in front of air vents, blocking the airflow. Time to rearrange that furniture!

How is that possible?

First, you need to understand that closing an AC vent does not make the AC run any less; it just forces the same amount of air through fewer vents. In other words, it increases pressure in the ductwork (think about it like trying to breathe through one nostril instead of two).

This extra pressure causes a few issues:

  • The AC blower slows down. The blower is designed to work against a certain amount of pressure. So when it works against too much pressure, the motor slows down (only applies to non-variable speed models). This, in turn, causes your home to be cooled at a slower rate.
  • The amount of of duct leakage increases. Your ductwork most likely already has air duct leaks. Adding extra pressure to an already leaky system is like jumping on an air mattress that's already leaking air. More holes form or current holes get bigger. As this image will help illustrate, more duct leakage means losing conditioned air to unconditioned places (like your attic).
closed supply vents

Long story short: Keep ALL your air vents open!

Related article: Why Closing Air Vents in Unused Rooms Damages Your Heating/Cooling System

4) Make sure the outside unit is clear of debris

outside ac unit debris

Like we said, your AC is a heat sponge whose job is to absorb heat and dump it outside. The inside unit does the absorbing; the outside unit does the dumping. But if the outside unit is covered in leaves, cobwebs or is smothered by a bush or fence, it will struggle to dump the heat outside.

Do this:

  • Clean off the outside unit the best you can
  • Trim away any bushes
  • Get rid of any solid fencing you’ve put around the unit

CAUTION: Beware of power outages

As a side note, we want you to keep in mind that during these heat waves, there’s extra strain on the power companies from everyone running their air conditioner. And that can cause temporary power outages. When you regain power, the AC may not turn back on. This could be deadly for any pets you leave at home! Not to mention all that heat could damage your home.

So, just to be on the safe side, we suggest that you read this article: How to Restart Your AC After a Power Outage.

The non-quick fix for a struggling AC

If you’ve tried all the above quick DIY solutions and your air conditioner is still struggling to cool your home, then the true problem may lie elsewhere, including:

Want to get a professional tech’s opinion on what’s ailing your AC?