13 Reasons Why Your AC Keeps Tripping Breaker (And Fixes)

Josh Mitchell

Written By

Josh Mitchell

Expert Reviewed By

Holly Curell

Last Updated On

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Key Takeaways

  • An AC breaker can trip if it is overloaded with many appliances, if there is a short circuit in the unit, or if the breaker is not sized properly.
  • Dirty and faulty components in an AC can often cause a breaker to trip frequently. It is also possible for a malfunctioning breaker to be the culprit.
  • Electrical faults are very dangerous and you should not attempt to fix them yourself. Hence, always consult with an HVAC professional.

When the AC is tripping your electricity, it’s important to pay attention and quickly diagnose the problem.

As an experienced HVAC professional, I know all the common issues that can cause your AC system to trip the breaker.

I’ll share my knowledge and help you get your air conditioner running again quickly.

13 Common Reasons Why Your AC Trips The Circuit Breaker (Solutions Included)

AC electrical faults cause 86% of dangerous air conditioner fires[1], and circuit breakers help you stop that from happening - but only if you know why it’s happening and what to do next.

1. The Sizing Of The Breaker Is Improper

Circuit breakers are rated by amps, determining the amount of current that can flow through without tripping the breaker.

The average home circuit breaker is 15-20 amps for the branch circuit, which is plenty for most home AC units, but larger air conditioning systems using too many amps can cause the circuit breaker to trip[2].

Solution:

You can either:

  • Move your air conditioning unit to a different place/room with a larger AC circuit breaker,
  • Hire a professional to upgrade the breaker and accompanying wiring.

TL;DR: If rated amps of a circuit breaker are lower than the rated amps of the AC, it will always trip.


2. You Are Overloading The Circuit

Each circuit breaker can only handle a certain amount of amps.

If you have other devices running through the same circuit breaker as your air conditioning system, it can overload the AC circuit breaker and shut off your power.
Solution:

Reroute other electrical devices so your AC unit can run through the breaker independently. You may need a professional to help.

TL;DR: A dedicated circuit is recommended for an AC. If too many appliances are connected to the AC circuit, it can get overloaded resulting in breaker tripping.


3. There Is A Short Circuit With The Electronic Components

ACs have internal electrical components that run continuously for hours.

Over time, the wires within the air conditioner can become damaged, leading to a ‘short’ (or short circuit)[3].

A 'short' means too much electricity is flowing through the wires and can cause overheating and fires.

The air conditioner circuit breaker will trip to shut off power and protect your home from danger.
Solution:

You need to contact a professional to find the source of the short circuit and make appropriate repairs.

Electrician Fixing AC breaker

TL;DR: A short circuit is a very dangerous condition as it is a sign of damaged electrical components. Seek professional help if you suspect this is the case.


4. A Dirty Air Filter Heating Up Your AC

The air filter in your AC unit will get dirty over time as air flows through the machine (more so with an outdoor unit than an inside unit).

If the air filters become too dirty, they can reduce airflow and cause your air conditioner to overheat, as the electric motors must work harder.

Your air conditioner will try to draw more power to compensate for the poor airflow, tripping the breaker.

Solution:

Change or clean the dirty air filter to stop your AC system from tripping the breaker.

You should be able to replace the air filter and perform regular maintenance yourself.

Important Note:

It is crucial to point out that you should avoid DIY maintenance if you have the slightest hint of doubt that things may go wrong. To avoid harming yourself or damaging your unit, always consider hiring professional help. 


5. Dirty Condenser Coils Can Also Heat Up Your AC

Your condenser coils absorb the heat from the air, but they can become blocked by dust or debris (particularly if you have a dirty outside unit).

The dirty coils can strain your air conditioning system, causing it to work harder and draw more electricity. 

They may lead to it tripping the breaker.

Solution:

Cleaning dust and debris off the dirty condenser coils should stop the AC tripping.

You should also have an AC technician check and perform annual maintenance on your condenser.

TL;DR: Dirty filter and dirty condenser coils can heat up the internal components. Higher heat results in higher current draw resulting in your breaker tripping. Perform regular cleaning of these components.


6. Problem With Coil Fan Motor

Air conditioners use a coil fan (or AC blower) to move hot air over the condenser coil and disperse heat, leaving you with cold air.

Your coil fan can become damaged over time, and a broken coil fan can cause the AC to draw too much power, leading to the breaker tripping.

Solution:

Hire a professional to perform AC repair work on the coil fan motor. It may need to be replaced to stop the breaker tripping.

TL;DR: A broken coil fan motor can draw more than its rated current, which in turn can trip the breaker.


7. Your Compressor Has Gone Bad

Your compressor houses the refrigerant that cools the air, but a faulty compressor won't cool the air.

Faults become more common as a compressor ages but can happen because of accidental damage.

A bad compressor can cause two issues:

  • Hard starting. Your faulty compressor won't start up properly and draws more power to try and compensate, causing it to trip its own breaker.
  • Grounded compressor. The wires connected to the compressor come loose, leading to a short circuit and a tripped breaker.
Solution:

A technician can install a hard start kit to try and get the compressor started.

However, a faulty compressor can mean costly repairs, and it's often best to replace the entire system rather than try to fix it.

Air Conditioner Compressor Outside a Room

TL;DR: If the compressor is hard starting or if it is grounded, then it will draw far more than its rated current.


8. Cables And Wires Wear And Tear

Your AC runs has wires running inside the whole unit connecting electrical components.

Over time, the wires and wire insulation can become loose or damaged.

Loose wires touching the ground, floor, or other components can cause further damage to the device and your home.

The circuit breaker trips as a safety measure to avoid an electrical short and prevent damage.

Solution:

Some electrical wires can be an easy fix, but electrics can be dangerous.

Have an HVAC technician check the electrical panel of the unit, find the damage, and perform the AC repair safely.

Important Note:

A loose wire or a grounded wire is a dangerous safety hazard. You should avoid touching or going near the unit if you spot a loose connection.


9. Too Little Refrigerant

Refrigerant is the working fluid in an AC unit that cools the air.

The AC compressor has a closed system for the refrigerant, but over time, refrigerant lines can become damaged.

This damage can lead to refrigerant leaking out.

The AC compressor coils will have to work harder to cool the air if there's less refrigerant.

The unit draws more electricity to compensate, which trips the breaker.
Solution:

Hire a professional to top up the refrigerant and seal the leak.

However, it may be cheaper to replace cheaper portable ACs than perform the repairs if it's out of warranty.

Refrigerant is a dangerous substance and can only be handled by professionals.[4]

Refrigerant Charging for AC

TL;DR: Lower refrigerant means that the AC has to work harder in order to cool. This in turn means using up more amps to compensate. More amps = breaker tripping.


10. Frozen Evaporator Coil

Dirt, debris, and grime can build up on the evaporator coil, preventing heat from flowing and causing the coils to freeze.

The air conditioner will try to draw more energy to compensate for the frozen coils, but as it draws more amps, it can cause the breaker to trip.

Solution:

You can fix this yourself by turning the power off and thawing out the compressor using a hair dryer.

Once dry, clean the evaporator coils to prevent them from malfunctioning and freezing over again.

If your air conditioner keeps tripping after this, contact a professional to determine the root cause.


11. It’s Too Hot Outside

Your air conditioner has to work harder in hot conditions to maintain the temperature, which can cause it to draw more electricity and strain the wiring.

It can also cause the breaker to trip to prevent overheating or fire hazards.

Solution:

Clean the AC to keep the unit cool by improving airflow, and only use the air conditioner when needed.

If it keeps tripping the breaker, you may need to buy a new AC.

TL;DR: If the internal components are heating up due to very hot weather outside then this can lead to the breaker tripping to avoid fire hazards.


12. Failing Air Conditioning Capacitors

Your AC capacitor provides the initial jolt of electricity so it can start.

Capacitors wear out over time, and if you notice your AC has trouble starting or keeps tripping, the capacity may be failing.

Solution:

Contact an HVAC professional to fix or replace the bad capacitor.


13. You Have A Defective Circuit Breaker

A circuit breaker can become defective through natural wear and tear, exposure to extreme temperatures, or by electrical faults tripping the breaker too frequently.

A defective breaker can trip your electricals every time you use your AC.

Solution:
First, make sure the breaker is actually defective. 

Circuit breakers trip electrics and protect your home, and you should only replace them as a last resort.

If you don't resolve the issue, the new breaker will continue to trip.

Check the other common causes on the list or consult an HVAC technician to determine the issue. A professional will need to replace the circuit breaker.

TL;DR: If all else is fine, then the likely culprit is a defective breaker. Most homes have a spare breaker which you can switch your AC to. If not, then a breaker replacement will be necessary.



When To Call Professionals For Maintenance Or Repair

I recommend calling a professional to help with most air conditioning electrical problems because it can be dangerous.

Always consult a professional if you experience any of the following:

  1. 1
    There is a burning smell from the breaker or AC:
    A burning smell indicates that your electrical wiring or AC breaker is overheating. It's a dangerous fire hazard, and you should shut off the air conditioner and contact an HVAC technician immediately.
  2. 2
    There are crackling or electrical sounds from the breaker or AC:
    Strange noises from your inside unit usually indicate an electrical issue, loose wiring, or short-circuiting - often in the compressor motor. It is dangerous to fix yourself, and you need to contact an AC Tech professional to undertake air conditioning repair work.
  3. 3
    You cannot point out where the issue lies:
    Your AC breaker trips the electrical supply for a reason, usually to protect you from serious danger. If your unit is tripping the AC breaker and you can't find the issue, you need to call an HVAC technician as soon as possible to diagnose the problem.

TL;DR: Electric works should always be carried out by professionals. However, some very alarming signs such as burning smell and crackling electrical sounds call for an immediate inspection. Shut off your home's main electric breaker if you experience these signs.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

What Exactly is a Circuit Breaker in an Air Conditioner?

A circuit breaker in an air conditioner (or AC breaker) is an electrical safety device that stops power flowing if there's an overload, short circuit, or fault in the AC system. Tripping the circuit breaker helps to prevent electrical fires and protect the AC unit.

Why Does My AC Trip After 5 Minutes?

If your AC trips after 5 minutes, it's usually because an overloaded circuit or faulty component is drawing in too much current and tripping the circuit breaker. You should consult an electrician or HVAC professional who can help with AC repair so it doesn’t trip the breaker.

What Happens If You Trip a Breaker Too Many Times?

If your breaker trips too often, the internal trip mechanism can wear out, preventing it from working and leaving your home at risk of electrical fires. You should replace the AC's breaker if it's tripping frequently.

Should You Reset The Circuit Breaker If It Continues to Trip?

No, the circuit breaking tripping indicates an underlying electrical problem, and you should diagnose and resolve the problem before resetting it.

So, Did You Find Your Fix?

If your AC trips the breaker, it means there's a potentially hazardous electrical fault.

Cleaning and regular tune-ups of your air conditioner will help to prevent it from happening, but you will need to consult a professional if it keeps tripping your breaker.

Hopefully, this guide has helped to explain the common causes, and you now know why your AC keeps tripping the power.

References: 

  1. https://apps.usfa.fema.gov/downloads/pdf/statistics/v2i5-508.pdf
  2. https://www.wikihow.com/Determine-Amperage-of-Circuit-Breaker
  3. https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/what-is-a-short-circuit/
  4. https://www.epa.gov/section608
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Josh Mitchell

Founder

Josh Mitchell
My name is Josh and I am obsessed with home appliances. From portable AC units to heaters and air purifiers, I enjoy testing, learning and using these devices to improve the air quality inside my family home.

My Favorite Home Appliance?

Midea U Shaped Window Air Conditioner

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