Informational Guide

Fixing an AC That Keeps Tripping the Breaker

If your air conditioner is constantly tripping, you should have it checked. We look at the DIY options for diagnosing and fixing this common AC issue.

by Ian Haynes

Commonly a circuit breaker is a safety switch built into the electrical system of your house. The breaker switch stops the electricity flow to any device or component which is consuming excessive power.

This helps in preventing an overload that can presumably lead to an electrical fire. The air conditioner circuit breaker will always trip if it allows more amps than it is rated for. For example, a 30-amp breaker will always trip if your air conditioner is drawing 40 amps.

However, if your air conditioner is constantly tripping, there is a reasonable cause for concern, and you should have it checked.

Learn more about our favorite Central ACs here.

Seeing your air conditioner tripping breaker, you may be concerned about what is happening and why it is happening.

If you have been experiencing a problem such as this, your best option is to contact a professional who can identify the problem and provide solutions.

When dealing with electrical wiring, it can be pretty hazardous to attempt to fix the problem yourself, i.e., if you have no prior training. Avoid your property and personal damage by hiring a trained professional.

Without more delay, here are multiple reasons why your air conditioner keeps tripping breaker:

Air Filter Is Dirty

If your AC filters haven’t been cleaned or replaced in a long time, the unit has to work harder to circulate air through vents.

Therefore, the air conditioner must run longer to circulate enough cooling air to pursue the temperatures demanded.

Furthermore, according to energy.gov, maintenance is crucial for a healthy air conditioning unit. Because if you don’t, the air conditioner must run longer, requiring more electricity and thus tripping the breaker.

Dirty Condenser Coils

Condenser coils are for the outside unit of your air conditioner. When the condenser coil is not clean, it prevents the outdoor unit from dispersing the heat out.

This causes the air conditioner to exert more force and causes it to overheat, requiring more electricity resulting in tripping.

Not Adequate Refrigerant

Like the dirty filter problem, if your air conditioner has a lower amount of refrigerant, it has to exert more force to cool the house. This ultimately damages your unit by causing overheating.

Damaged Coil Fan

The coils release heat from the inside unit with the help of a fan. This fan is situated in the outside unit, and if it stops working, there is no way for the condenser coils to cool down.

The Compressor is ‘Hard Starting’

The compressor is the heart of your AC. And as the system gets older, the compressor grows weaker.

Therefore, starting up a weak compressor demands a considerable portion of energy; this is known as hard starting. When hard starting, the compressor requires more electricity, hence, tripping the breaker.

Shorted Motor

Your air conditioner’s electric motor can run for hours if it needs to. But if it is left to run for a long time, the wire insulation breaks down and causes an electrical short. This results in a higher amount of electricity passing through the wires, causing the breaker to trip.

Capacitor Gone Bad

The capacitor is responsible for starting the compressor. If blown out, it would require replacement. This may compel you to conduct maintenance yourself and check for problems before the unit can trip.

Grounded Compressor

A grounded compressor means that the compressor’s internal windings have been damaged. These broken windings can strike the side of the compressor, resulting in a direct short or grounding. This can burn oil, causing burnouts, ultimately tripping the breaker.

Loose Aging and Wiring Parts

As the air conditioner starts wearing down and getting older, it results in the wiring beginning to loosen. This can also be the reason why your air conditioner keeps tripping.

Old AC Unit

What to Do When Your AC Circuit Breaker is Tripping?

Don’t repeatedly turn the air conditioner breaker back on if it keeps tripping.

Although, at times, a lightning strike nearby can also cause a power surge, tripping the breaker. In that case, you will be fine once you turn the breaker back on.

Here is how you can fix the situation in different circumstances:

AC Unit Keeps Tripping Breaker

If the problem persists and your AC unit keeps tripping, follow these steps:

  1. .Turn OFF the air conditioning system
  2. .Switch the air conditioner circuit breaker ON from the electric panel
  3. .Wait for thirty minutes after turning the air conditioner OFF. Ensure that the thermostat is still OFF so that the AC’s internal circuit breaker can reset
  4. .Set the air conditioner back to cooling after thirty minutes

If you are lucky enough, your unit will resume normal functionality, and your air conditioner circuit breaker will not trip again.

However, if your air conditioner circuit breaker continues to trip or the unit doesn’t turn back on, it requires a professional’s attention.

Air Conditioner Trips Breaker After 5 Minutes

Poor maintenance will cause the air conditioner circuit breaker to trip. A dirty condenser coil will enable the air conditioner to draw excessive power, which in turn raises inside temperatures.

That will ultimately cause the air conditioner circuit breaker to trip if the problem is not repaired correctly.

Dirty, clogged filters are the primary reason for circuit breakers to trip. Ensure that you properly maintain your unit, change the dirty air filters, and keep the heating and air conditioning system healthy.

It will ultimately help you save money on power usage.

AC Breaker Tripped And Won’t Reset

A mechanical problem slows or prevents the motor from turning. These problems can include:

  • Something stuck in the motor
  • Bad bearing

The motor would have to work against the resistance. This will result in drawing in a high amp. It ultimately causes more heat build-up, eventually causing the air conditioner system to trip.

In addition, many residential motor bearings are non-serviceable which means that they do not need maintenance or oil aside from periodical cleaning of the outer casing.

These residential compressor systems are hermetically sealed; therefore, there is no way to check for mechanical problems.

Outside AC Unit Tripping Breaker

These days, this problem is not common as many people now have new and improved digital thermostats.

These new digital thermostats have a built-in delay timer to prevent short-cycling of the equipment. Short cycling is the turning off and on again of motor quickly.

It involves the electric motor going from a complete halt to running 100% in a split second, drawing very high amps to overcome resistance, eventually causing an air conditioner trip.

AC Compressor Tripping The Breaker

At times, compressed air can become stuck above the cylinder piston because of a failure with the unloader valve. This adds to the load, hence, tripping the breaker.

To examine this:

  • Remove the compressor’s plug
  • Drain the compressor tank of all the air stuck inside it
  • Reinstall the compressor
  • Turn on the switch

However, there are other reasons why the compressor may cause the unit to trip. One of these reasons is related to how the AC is plugged into the home electricity.

If you’re not directly plugging into the home socket and are using an extension brick, the unit may lack the sufficient power it needs to function correctly.

HVAC from Outside

How to Prevent Tripping Circuit Breaker: By AC Type

Not everyone has the same kind of AC unit; here is what you can do depending on the unit you have installed:

Central Air Conditioners

Central Air conditioning systems are more susceptible to tripping because of their amp requirements and lack of ability to deal with humidity.

Central air conditioners require a continuous supply of electricity, without which the entire system can trip. To prevent this, ensure that your electric supply is not compromised.

Furthermore, because CAC systems are a complex network spread around your house, ensure that all outlets are cleaned and maintained.

Portable Air Conditioners

Portable air conditioners also experience problems similar to window air conditioners. When your portable AC keeps tripping the breaker, it is most likely due to a problem in the compressor and might require a look by a technician.

Your air conditioner might also be experiencing a slow leak, which is a common occurrence in many portable AC units at the end of their life.

If your AC is not that old, try opening it up and cleaning the air filters, the trip may only occur due to blocked filters.

RV Air Conditioners

If your RV AC keeps tripping the breaker, it might be requiring specific maintenance. Continuous operation results in the air conditioner accumulating quite a bit of dust. Therefore, open your unit and clean the filters.

If the problem persists, you might require the help of an expert, and it is better to take it to an RV AC technician.

Window Air Conditioners

You might be thinking, “why does my window AC breaker keep tripping?” Most of the time, it might be because of a bad capacitor.

A capacitor starts the compressor, and when it has trouble starting, it might trip the breaker by pulling in too many amps. Frequently, capacitors wear out, and they might need replacing.

People Also Ask (FAQ)

What Is The Lifespan Of A Circuit Breaker?

The modern air conditioner circuit breaker has a lifespan of fifteen to twenty years. However, some circuits can last even longer than that.

Is It Dangerous If The Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping?

If your AC circuit breaker keeps tripping, this might be resulting from casual wear and tear of the circuit breaker. You must install a new circuit breaker as soon as possible.

How Much Does It Cost To Replace A Breaker Switch?

Replacing a circuit breaker switch costs around $150 – $200, including the material and labor costs.

How Many Times Can A Breaker Trip?

To maintain the health of your appliance and the safety of your home, it is essential not to let the breaker trip more than 4-5 times. If it gets to that level, you may have to install a new one as soon as possible!

Is It Safe To Reset A Tripped Breaker?

The act of physically resetting a breaker is safe, but going about it requires taking safety precautions. There may be loose wires around the panel or metal parts that you would want to avoid.

Conclusion

It is imperative to understand why your air conditioner keeps tripping the breaker; however, you wouldn’t have to care if you conducted biannual maintenance of your unit, keeping a check on things.

Air conditioner breakers are pretty sturdy, and they only trip because of increased electrical load. Therefore, it is better to understand your air conditioning unit and seek professional help as soon as things seem out of control.

Ian Haynes

Ian Haynes is an HVAC writer, and researcher. He has worked on hundreds of articles relating to home cooling, heating and air quality with a vast knowledge of the technical aspects of these types of appliances. Outside of his work, Ian likes exploring Brooklyn with his Labrador. Learn more about the AC Lab team here.

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