Essential Tips for Living in the Desert

By Andrea Ditter-Middleton

The Phoenix metropolitan area is the fifth largest in the U.S. by population and home to Arizona State University, which welcomes approximately 41,000 undergraduate and 10,000 graduate students each fall. For those new to the Arizona living experience, the intensity of the desert heat and dry atmosphere are an adjustment. If you or your child is getting ready to join the ranks of Sun Devil nation, it’s important to take time to plan for the peculiarities of living in this unique American environment.

1. Temperature Control Is Critical

With temperatures that average in the 90s from May to September and never dip below 40 degrees Fahrenheit even on the coldest day, Arizona is a climate that is all about managing heat. This starts with the structural design of your home. A building with deep overhangs keeps inside spaces cooler because less direct sunlight enters the rooms. In addition, ceiling fans with “summer mode” keep open rooms cooler by drawing hot air up to the ceiling, and standing fans placed in strategic locations move the cool air around. Heavy, light reflecting window coverings are a must throughout the home.

2. Hydrate!

The dry desert air means sweat can evaporate before you even feel it. As a result, dehydration happens rapidly in hot desert climates. Louise Sokota, RN, BSN, has lived and worked in the Phoenix area for more than 20 years, and she notes that the signs of dehydration can be as simple as thirst and that most people, especially young ones unaccustomed to the Arizona heat, won’t even recognize it.

The solution, Sokota explains, is investing in an insulated water bottle and carrying it with you everywhere ― literally. She says, “Even if you are just going on a quick trip to the store, take water with you. You never know how long you may be out.”

3. Life Without Humidity Has a Downside

“It’s a dry heat.” This phrase is so ubiquitous with Arizona that it’s almost comical, but the side effects of that dry heat aren’t funny at all. From your skin to your lungs, every system in your body reacts ― for better or worse ― to the intense dryness. “Over half of your body is made of water,” Sokota explains. “So, with little-to-no water in the air, the minute you step outside, you start to lose moisture.”

She recommends, making your home more comfortable with a good humidifier. “We run our humidifiers year-round, especially in the bedrooms,” she explains. In addition, she cautions anyone with breathing problems such as asthma to consult with their doctor about how the change in environment will affect them. “From dry air, you get dust. Add a little wind, and guess what you’re breathing? This can wreak havoc on asthmatic lungs.”

4. Driving (and Parking) Will Change

In Arizona, the best parking spots are determined by shade, not distance. In fact, cars can get so hot in the summer that you could bake cookies on your dashboard. Help manage car interior temperatures with a reflective windshield shade. Also, although it may seem ridiculous, consider keeping oven mitts in your car for especially hot days when you don’t have time to let the steering wheel cool down.

5. Sun Damage Is Real

Sun damage is a problem for homeowners across the country, but when you see nearly 300 days of sun a year, this concern vastly increases. Whether your furniture is made of wood, fabric, or metal, properly placing and caring for your furniture is an essential part of Arizona life. Avoid placing any pieces in direct sunlight. Wood furniture needs particularly special care in dry air, because it can bend or crack over time.

Taking advantage of CORT student packages is one way to minimize the fuss and stress over furniture, as it allows you to swap out furniture each school year or semester. You also enjoy higher quality furnishings that are much less prone to damage.

Welcome to the Valley of the Sun

Although different from much of the country, the majesty and beauty of the desert landscape that surrounds the Phoenix metropolitan area is truly special. From the humps of Camelback Mountain in the center of town to the vast Superstition Mountains to the north, there is a lot to enjoy about this unique desert locale. With a few simple modifications to your routine and your home, you can enjoy the best that Arizona has to offer both inside and outside your door.