Why is My AC Tripping the Circuit Breaker?
October 04, 2021
Air conditioners are vital to Floridians, so it's no surprise that homeowners would be stressed if their AC suddenly started turning off.
If this is happening to you now, it’s likely a tripped circuit breaker. When your AC trips the circuit breaker after running for only a few minutes, your breaker cuts the power to the AC system.
Why is your AC tripping the circuit breaker? Many issues can be at play, but the primary 3 reasons include:
- An overloaded circuit
- A grounded compressor
- A faulty breaker
We’ll review how to reset your circuit breaker to see if that restores your AC’s power. If it doesn’t, we’ll dive into the potential problems related to a tripped circuit breaker and how to troubleshoot them.
Reset your circuit breaker
Before we look at what could be causing the frequent tripping, let's first try resetting the circuit breaker. You can do so by:
- Let the unit cool down for about 5 minutes. The Department of Energy recommends letting the unit rest before resetting any breakers.
- Turn off your thermostat.
- Locate your gray main circuit panel by checking your closets, garage, or basement. Make sure there's no water on the ground in the room with the panel. If there is, do NOT stand in the water while resetting the breaker.
- Find the AC switch. The breakers are typically labeled. If not, look for the switch that is either in a middle position or OFF. Some manufacturers have a visible color indicator that shows that a breaker has tripped.
- Push the switch OFF unless it's already OFF. If already OFF, skip to Step #6.
- Push the switch ON. You should feel a satisfying click into place.
- Wait for 30 seconds.
- Turn your AC back on to test.
If your AC immediately trips again, do NOT reset the breaker again until the cause is corrected. Multiple overcurrents, or surges of electricity, can damage your AC and even start a fire.
Read on to learn about the potential issues causing your AC to trip the circuit breaker.
Three main reasons behind your AC tripping the circuit breaker:
1. An overloaded circuit
Circuit breakers shut off the flow of electricity whenever the number of amps (a unit of electrical current) exceeds its amp rating. For example, if the circuit breaker has a rating of 15 amps, it'll trip whenever 20 amps flow through the circuit.
So, whenever your AC is using too much energy, it's pulling in more amps than usual, causing a surge and your circuit breaker to trip.
Your air conditioner can use too much energy if:
The air filter is dirty:
Air conditioners need air to be flowing into the system to cool your home enough to meet your set temperature.
When air filters get clogged with debris and dirt, they block airflow from entering the system. Your AC now has to compensate by working harder and using more electricity to cool your home. The circuit breaker isn’t used to this amount of energy consumption and trips to protect your AC.
The condenser is dirty:
Your AC's outdoor unit is called the condenser. It plays an essential role in keeping your home cool by dumping the heat your indoor unit absorbs from your home's air outside.
When the condenser is dirty or blocked by bushes, your outdoor unit can no longer effectively transfer the heat outside, and your AC has to use more energy and take longer to cool your home. This increase in needed power trips the circuit breaker.
The condenser fan doesn't work correctly:
As we mentioned above, the condenser is your outdoor AC unit. The condenser's fan helps dissipate heat back outside. If you stand next to the condenser and can't hear the fan rumbling, it's likely broken.
When the fan’s motor is broken or worn out, the electricity from your AC system to the motor has nowhere to go and is flowing freely. Your AC will automatically detect this issue and trip your circuit breaker to prevent the wires from frying and damaging your system or home.
The refrigerant is leaking:
What is refrigerant? It's a cold substance in your AC that helps the indoor unit absorb heat from the air. Leaking refrigerant means your AC can't cool your home as effectively due to reduced heat absorption abilities, forcing it to use more power and tripping the breaker due to overload.
How do you know you have a refrigerant leak? You can tell when:
- You see ice forming on the condenser
- You hear hissing or bubbling noises coming from your inside AC unit
- You have higher than normal monthly energy bills
If you suspect your breaker keeps tripping because of any of these reasons, try changing out your air filter monthly and booking an appointment with an AC technician to clean the condenser. Also, make sure to check your condenser's fan and inspect the refrigerant lines.
2. A shorted compressor
Typically, electricity flows in a loop called a circuit. When a compressor "shorts," it's because a malfunction interrupts the loop, allowing too much electricity to flow through the circuit. The circuit breaker then trips to shut off electricity to prevent the overload from potentially causing a fire.
Most malfunctions are because of a winding, where electrical currents pass through inside the compressor, breaking and not being able to handle its load anymore. The additional electricity ignites the oil in the compressor, causing a sudden current surge that burns out the compressor and forces the circuit breaker to trip.
Unfortunately, a burned-out compressor most likely needs to be replaced because a functional compressor is vital as it pumps refrigerant throughout your system.
Replacing the compressor can be expensive if you don't have a valid warranty. If you have a valid warranty, financing options can help. Or, you might want to look into replacing your system entirely. You can use our handy AC installation cost calculator to see if a replacement would be more cost-effective than replacing your compressor.
3. A faulty breaker
Your circuit breaker may keep tripping because of an issue with the breaker itself.
To determine if the breaker is damaged, find your home's main circuit panel and look for indicators that you have a faulty breaker, such as:
- The breaker is hot when you touch it
- You can smell a burning odor near the breaker
- You see loose connecting wires
- You see burn marks on the breaker
- You see obvious worn-out parts
If you notice any of the above indicators, you're dealing with a faulty breaker that needs professional replacement. Call a technician immediately.
Contact Advanced Air to stop your circuit breaker from tripping.
Advanced Air has been serving the Southwest Florida area for over 25 years, and our technicians are ready to help you get your AC back up and running the same day. Call us today at (888) 853-5143 or contact us by filling out the form below.
- Posted in:
- Air Conditioning