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Tips for Getting Your Air Conditioner Ready for a Dust Storm

Dust storms in the Tucson area can wreak havoc on home cooling systems. This is especially true when this equipment isn’t prepared for these severe weather events. Taking steps to ready your air conditioner ahead of a dust storm can both protect it from damages and safeguard resident health. Although there isn’t much that you can do to keep your house from being subjected to these storms, the following seven tips are sure to help limit their impact.

1. Turn Your Air Conditioner Off Throughout the Duration of These Events

Dust storms or haboobs can be incredibly unpredictable. As soon as you know one is headed your way, turn off your air conditioner immediately. Close all windows and doors, and then simply wait it out. While most Tucson dust storms happen during the hottest part of the summer, keeping your cooling equipment off throughout their duration is definitely worthwhile. This will prevent dirt and other debris from entering the home, keep your indoor air quality (IAQ) high and minimize the impact of the storm on all parts of your cooling system. Most dust storms last approximately 10 to 15 minutes. After an event has passed and the air has cleared, you can again turn your air conditioner on.

If property damage appears widespread, take a minute to inspect and clean the outside condenser unit before resuming regular AC operation. When you have the luxury of taking your time, you should do as much post-storm cleanup as you can right away and before flipping the AC back on. Having an alternative cooling plan that includes standing fans, ceiling fans and even portable AC units for limited, short-term use will buy you more time for performing a thorough cleanup after a dust storm has passed.

2. Invest in a Hail Guard for Roof-Mounted or Exposed Equipment

As most Arizona residents are already well aware, dust storms do far more than simply kick up a lot of dirt. In addition to fine granules of dust and other tiny particulates, the strong winds that drive these events can carry a lot of heavier debris. If your air conditioner is on the roof, consider installing a hail guard. This will provide a solid barrier between costly AC equipment and fast-moving debris. A hail guard can also work well for other air conditioners that are more exposed than standard designs by greatly limiting the likelihood of impact-related damage.

3. Seal Off All Cracks, Hole, and Gaps in Building Materials

Having cracks, gaps and holes around windows, under doors and in general building materials will make your AC/Heat system less efficient at all times of the year. It will also greatly drive up the costs of keeping your home at a suitably cool temperature during the hottest portions of summer. During dust storms, these openings are guaranteed to let debris in. This will lead to poorer indoor air quality, more stress on your air conditioner and far more post-storm cleanup.

4. Replace Air Filters Right Away

For moderate air conditioner use, air filter changes should generally be performed once every two to four months or according to the AC manufacturer’s recommended schedule. With daily AC use, these filters should be checked and changed every 30 days. However, after a dust storm has passed, you’ll want to change this component out no matter where you are in your filter replacement schedule. These events are guaranteed to have at least some impact on indoor air quality, the outside condenser and the immediate level of debris accumulation on your filter. You can complete this change before resuming your AC use or several hours after turning your air conditioner back on following the storm.

Good filtration limits stress on air conditioners. With more particulates extracted, air conditioners don’t have to work as hard to meet cooling demands. Also, consider investing in higher-rated air filters for your home. Simple, 1-inch pleated filters are used in many households due to their affordable cost. Although these are good for capturing and trapping most tiny particulates, you’ll get far better air filtration from a filter with a minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) rating of 8 or higher. Upgrading your air filter is important to do if you have any elderly adults, infants, toddlers or people with compromised immune systems in your home. Moreover, this upgrade is absolutely critical if there are any residents with respiratory conditions such as asthma, allergies or COPD.

5. Perform a Thorough Cleaning of the Outside Condenser Unit

The outside condenser will take the biggest hit during a dust storm. Cleaning this component out is essential, and it should be done before long-term ongoing use of the air conditioner is resumed. With post-storm condenser cleanings, sooner is always better. Be sure to remove any large debris that has been blown onto or directly next to the unit. Open the enclosure and clean the condenser coils according to the instructions in your owner’s manual. Removing dust and debris after a storm will prevent overheating and other issues.

If you’ve never cleaned your own AC condenser before, or if it has been absolutely inundated with debris, have this component professionally maintained by scheduling AC/Heat service. Professional inspection and service after a major dust storm are often necessary for ensuring that damages aren’t more severe or widespread than they initially appear.

6. Make Sure That the AC Drain Line Is Functioning Properly

Heavy rains and even moderate problems with property flooding can also impact your AC system. After a monsoon rainstorm, check the AC drain line to make sure that it’s dripping water. If it isn’t, it likely has a blockage that needs to be cleared. Clearing blockages before dust storms hit will ensure that existing issues aren’t exacerbated by additional debris. Installing a condensate safety switch can prevent water leaks and property damage in the event that the condensate line ever gets clogged due to any weather event.

Being diligent about scheduling routine AC maintenance can make it infinitely easier to mitigate seasonal problems throughout the year. Without regular inspections and tune-ups, air conditioner problems from one season could lead to greater troubles in the ones that follow. These services also help limit ongoing wear so that systems aren’t already stressed or poised for serious problems as significant weather-related challenges arise.

7. Have a Surge Protector Installed

Lightning strikes, rainstorms and dust storms can all lead to power outages and power surges that damage home cooling equipment. Having a surge protector installed will keep these electrical events from damaging your home, your air conditioner and any other appliances or electronics that you rely on.

Preparing your air conditioner ahead of dust storms doesn’t take a tremendous amount of effort. By turning your unit off throughout these events and performing diligent post-storm maintenance, you can limit the impact that these events have on your property, your health and your cooling system. At Rite Way Heating, Cooling & Plumbing, we offer a vast range of services for residents of the greater Tucson area. Whether you need preventative maintenance for your air conditioner, heat pump, furnace, hot water tank or water conditioning system, we can help. We also provide repair and installation services. Call us today to request a quote or to set up a service visit.