6 Reasons Your Air Conditioner Keeps Tripping The Circuit Breaker

So you’ve determined that your AC is tripping the breaker, but you’re clueless as to why.

Bummer.

Well, an air conditioner usually trips the breaker because it’s pulling in more amps than the breaker is rated for. That is, if you have a 20-amp breaker and the AC pulls 30 amps, the breaker trips.

That’s why breakers trip: to protect you from overcurrents that can damage equipment and cause fires (yikes).

So DON’T keep resetting the breaker and letting it trip. Constant tripping can harm equipment and cause a fire. Find the cause of the problem first.

Common causes of an air conditioner tripping the breaker include:

  1. Dirty air filter
  2. Dirty outside unit
  3. Issue with the circuit breaker
  4. Motor has shorted
  5. Compressor has trouble starting
  6. Compressor is grounded

You can fix the first problem yourself, but everything else requires an AC repair technician.

Read on to learn why these problems cause an AC to trip the breaker.

Or you can schedule an AC repair with us right away if you live in the metro Atlanta, GA area.

1) Dirty air filter

Imagine forcing a pillow over your face. Hard to breathe right? That’s what a dirty filter does to your AC blower; the blower has to to work longer and harder to circulate air through the filter. This causes the blower to draw more electricity and trip the breaker.

Solution: Change the air filter.

2) Dirty outside unit

Your AC system has an inside unit and an outside unit. The inside unit absorbs heat from your air using refrigerant. That refrigerant flows to the outside unit to disperse the heat.

However, the outside unit can’t disperse heat well if it’s super dirty because dirt is an insulator. So the AC runs and runs trying to disperse that heat outside until—click—the breaker trips due to drawing too much current. 

Solution: Get an AC tech to properly clean the outside unit. You may be thinking, “Why can’t I clean it myself?”

Well,

  1. You lack the cleaning equipment and cleaning chemicals to clean the condenser coil professionally (and buying the wrong type of equipment can actually do more harm than good to the condenser).
  2. Cleaning it improperly could damage/flatten the fins wrapped around the coil. This blocks airflow over the coil and is just as bad as having the coil matted with dirt.

3) Issues with the circuit breaker

The issue may not be with the AC itself but rather with the breaker.

Wires connected to the breaker may be loose or the breaker itself may be bad and needs replacing. This is a relatively inexpensive fix.

Solution: Have a tech tighten connections to the AC’s breaker or replace the breaker. 

4) Motor has shorted

Electric motors in your AC can run for hours and hours and can take quite a bit of abuse.
But if a motor runs hot for too long, the wire insulation can break down, leading to an electrical “short.”

A “short” is where electricity bypasses its normal path, (so it’s taking a “shortcut”). This shortcut allows more electricity to flow than the wires can handle, causing the wires to overheat, melt and cause a fire.

Of course, before the fire happens, the circuit breaker trips.

Solution: Call an AC repair technician to find the source of the short.

5) Compressor has trouble starting

The heart of your AC system is the compressor. It pulls tons of electricity when it starts up.

Unfortunately, as the compressor ages, it has trouble starting (called hard starting) and pulls even more electricity, causing the breaker to trip as a result.

Solution: Have an AC technician install a “hard start kit” which is a capacitor that gives  the compressor motor an extra electrical “jolt” to get it moving.

However, the compressor may be old or damaged and need to be replaced instead.

6) Compressor is grounded

A “grounded compressor” or “compressor short to ground” means that an electrical winding inside the compressor has broken and hit the side of the compressor. This causes a direct short to ground, igniting the oil and causing a burnout. And, of course, the circuit breaker trips due to the sudden current surge.

Solution: This is the worst case scenario. An AC tech will have to replace the compressor  and clean the refrigerant lines.

If your compressor is out of warranty (or your warranty never covered it), you might as well replace the entire outside unit. Cheaper that way. (Compressors are pricy.)

Need an AC repair? Call Ragsdale Heating and Air

If you’ve changed the filter and that didn’t help, call an AC technician for help.

If you live in the metro Atlanta, GA area, schedule an AC repair with Ragsdale Heating and Air. (Save 10% by scheduling online.)

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