The last thing you need on a hot Southern California summer day is for your air conditioner to keep tripping the circuit breaker and shutting off. While this is definitely annoying, keep in mind that your AC circuit breaker is a safety switch that protects your equipment from damage by turning off the power when an overload is detected. It also protects your safety since overloaded circuits can result in a fire. So if your AC circuit breaker keeps tripping repeatedly, this is not a situation you should ignore.
We cannot stress this enough: DO NOT keep resetting the breaker. Reset it once and only once. If the breaker trips again, then you have an issue that needs to be fixed. If the circuit breaker trips the second that your air conditioner turns on, then there is nothing more that you can do yourself – leave the circuit breaker off and call your local HVAC repairman. The problem has to do with wiring or a short circuit – something you don’t want to deal with.
Here are some possible reasons why your unit might be tripping the breaker:
- Dirty A/C Air Filter: Dust can also collect on your A/C’s air filter. If you leave your air filter in so long that it is completely clogged with dirt, it can suffocate your AC, causing it to work much harder than it should, overheat, and trip the breaker.
- Dirty A/C Condenser Coils: Your A/C condenser coils, located in the outside AC unit, are designed to release the heat from your home to the outside. Dirt, leaves and other debris can sometimes accumulate on the coils and prevent them from functioning properly, causing the air conditioner to overheat.
- Condenser Coil Fan Problems: The condenser coil fan is responsible for cooling your outside A/C unit’s condenser coils. If the fan malfunctions, the coils will not be cooled and the unit will overheat and trip the circuit breaker.
- A/C Refrigerant Level Too Low: Refrigerant is the chemical solution that enables the air conditioner to keep the air in your house cool. If your system has lost refrigerant, the air conditioner has to work harder to achieve the set temperature of the property. The refrigerant also keeps the compressor motor cool, so loss of refrigerant can lead to overheating of the compressor’s motor.
- Loose Electrical Connections: If the electrical connections on your outside unit have come loose, usually through expansion and contraction due to contact with the weather, your breaker will likely trip. Tightening the connections is required if this is the problem.
- Electrical Short: Another reason the breaker might trip is due to an electrical short somewhere in the system. When a short is present, the breaker will trip immediately. If this happens, it’s best not to reset the breaker and call for service.
- Issues with the Circuit Creaker: 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.
- Bad Capacitor or Compressor: The compressor is in your air conditioner’s outdoor unit. A weak compressor has trouble starting. When it does try to start, it may try to pull too much electricity, which will trip your breaker. If this is the problem, an air conditioning professional might recommend installing a hard start kit.
- 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.
- Grounded Compressor: A grounded compressor is the worst-case scenario on this list. Similar to a short, a grounded compressor occurs 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. Before this starts a fire, your circuit breaker will shut the electrical current off which is what causes your breaker to trip. The bad news is, if you have a grounded compressor, you will have to replace the compressor (an expensive part) or the whole outside unit. If your compressor is not covered under warranty and your outside unit is old, it may make more sense to replace the outside unit instead of the compressor. Contact an air conditioning expert to help you determine if you have a grounded compressor.
Reset Your Air Conditioner’s Circuit Breaker (ONCE, and ONLY once!).
Always be careful with resetting a circuit breaker. If it keeps tripping, then something is wrong! Reset it once and only once, and see if your unit runs normally.
Always reset a circuit breaker by ensuring that it is fully in the OFF position first (if not, move it there), then turning it back ON. Wait and see what it does after a few minutes of running. If it does not trip again, then it might have been a power surge from a thunderstorm, or something like that.
Look at some of your other household equipment, such as your stove and microwave. If they are all have blinking and your air conditioner is also not working, then this probably is not a problem with your air conditioning system. If the circuit breaker trips the second that your air conditioner turns on, then there is nothing more that you can do yourself – leave the circuit breaker off and call your local HVAC repairman. The problem has to do with wiring or a short circuit – something you don’t want to deal with.
If You Are Still Having Problems
If you are still having trouble, you may need to give us a call to set up a consultation just to give you piece of mind.
Always work your way from the simplest and most common explanation to the more unlikely ones. Even if your air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping, be patient, and rule out the most likely causes. A lot of the time, it is something you could handle yourself, but if you need additional help, we would be happy to answer any questions you might have.
If your system needs repair or inspection before winter, call us on 951-926-1002. You can also visit our Contact page and complete the contact form.