Air Conditioner Keeps Tripping the Circuit Breaker? Here’s Why:
May 11, 2015
“Why the heck is my AC tripping the circuit breaker? Ugh, so annoying!” It may be annoying, but it’s doing you a favor.
You see, a circuit breaker shuts off the flow of electricity (or “trips”) due to a surge in the circuit, which can damage the air conditioner and even start a fire.
That’s why you shouldn't keep resetting the breaker until you’ve found the source of the tripping. That breaker won’t last forever.
So what’s causing your AC to create this sudden surge of electricity?
Could be a number of things. Let’s start with problems you can solve and then talk about problems you’ll need an air conditioner technician to fix.
Problems you can fix
Dirty air filter
Dirty filters are probably the #1 cause of troubles with an AC. In this case, the dirty filter is forcing your AC to work longer and harder, causing it to draw more electricity than the breaker is rated for. So it trips.
Change that sucker out pronto if it’s filthy.
Dirty outside unit
- Find your air conditioner outside unit (the one with the fan)
- Brush off any leaves and limbs that have fallen on it
- Wash the outside unit with a garden hose sprayer on a low setting (a high setting can damage your AC.)
Here’s why you should clean the outside unit.
Essentially, your air conditioner works like a heat sponge: The inside unit absorbs heat from your indoor air and then transports it outside and disperses it via the outside unit.
But if the outside unit is dirty, it can’t disperse the heat well. Meaning your AC has to run much longer to cool your home. Again, this can cause the AC to draw too much electricity and trips the breaker.
Problems a technician needs to fix
Issues with the circuit breaker
OK, OK I know we said that a breaker trips because of an electric surge. But another possible cause is the breaker is old and worn out and needs replacing. Or wires connected to the breaker may be loose and need tightening
Please don’t try to fix this yourself; you may get electrocuted. Get an experienced tech to do it. They’ll know what to look for.
Your AC may have tripped the breaker due to a frayed wire in a motor which causes a “short circuit.” A short circuit is when electricity is taking a “shortcut” in the circuit and pulls in electricity without constraint.
That surge of electricity trips the breaker.
A grounded compressor (also called a “compressor short to ground”) is when an electrical winding within the compressor hits the side of the compressor. This causes a direct short to ground, which ignites the oil in the compressor and causes a burnout.
The surge of electricity from this event trips the breaker.
If this is the case, then—bad news—an AC tech will have to either:
- Replace the compressor (a VERY expensive part)
- Replace the outside unit altogether
If your compressor is out of warranty and the outside unit is old, it makes more financial sense to replace the outside unit instead of replacing the compressor.
Compressor hard starting
The compressor is like the heart of the outside unit. And just like your heart, the compressor has a hard time working the older it gets.
A compressor pulls in a ton of electricity when it starts up; but an old compressor pulls in even more electricity if it has a hard time starting and stalls—tripping the breaker as a result.
An AC technician can install a “hard start kit,” a capacitor that gets the compressor started using an extra electrical "jolt."
Air conditioner repairs for Kansas City area homeowners
Try changing the filter and cleaning the outside unit, if that does not work, then call a professional tech for help.
Do you live in the Kansas City area? Then why not contact Santa Fe Air Conditioning & heating for help? We’re no slouches when it comes to AC repairs.
We may even have a AC repair coupon with your name on it.