Wondering what to do about a window air conditioner that’s tripped your breaker?

I’ll discuss several reasons that could be the cause and how to handle them. And point out when you should worry about it. Because in some cases I would say there isn’t too much of a concern. In other cases, you may need to take action.

Read on, and I’ll explain the difference.

Was It a Random Event, or Does Your Breaker Trip Often?

First of all, there may be times when you shouldn’t be overly concerned over a tripping event.

The fact is circuit breakers trip. I would say most, if not all, homeowners have had to trek down to the basement to reset a breaker on the main service panel.

If you’ve had your window air conditioner—or portable, for that matter—running on a specific outlet for a significant period of time, and you suddenly had a random trip, you probably shouldn’t panic.

But pay attention and do a little detective work. What else was going on when the breaker tripped? Did someone plug in a rarely used appliance? Or did nothing change at all? Whatever the case, file that info away, just in case it happens again.

If it doesn’t, just assume it was one of those things and move on.

But what if your breaker is constantly tripping?

If this is your scenario, do not reengage the breaker. Every breaker is rated to carry a specified number of amps—or current. So if you have your air conditioner on a breaker rated at 15 amps and you’ve gone over that, your breaker trips.

Which is exactly what it was designed to do. It’s a safety feature. To save you from an electrical fire will make your house a whole lot hotter. It could go up in smoke along with your air conditioner.

Instead of resetting the breaker, find out why it’s constantly tripping.

Let’s walk through a few possible reasons.

Reasons Air Conditioners Could Constantly Trip Your Breaker

There is a good chance the source of your problem is the air conditioner itself. Because something could be making it overheat and draw more power than it should—and more current than your breaker can handle—your breaker sends a warning message by tripping.

Here are several possible reasons for an air conditioner to overheat. And note that the following could apply to a window air conditioner or a central air unit.

1. Dirty Air Filters

This is typically the number one reason for several air conditioner issues. As soon as filters become clogged with dust and debris, air can no longer pass through them. And that’s their purpose.

dirty air conditioner filter
Change your air filter regularly

As soon as airflow is blocked, your air conditioner, or furnace for that matter, has to start working harder. 

Imagine trying to blow a single particle of dust off your hand. Hardly any effort, right? Now try blowing a full pad of little post-it notes off your palm. I was just able to do that, but it took a lot more effort. And it gave me a headache.

Perhaps I was about to have a stroke, which is similar to what happens to your air conditioner when you make it work too hard.

If your blower motor has to work too hard for too long to push air through the filer, it will overheat. And your breaker will trip.

Solution: Change your air filter regularly. Yes, they cost money. But they’re a whole lot cheaper than a new blower motor.

If you have the reusable type that can be cleaned, clean it regularly.

And a side note here. Don’t be fooled by all the air filter marketing and buy something that won’t work with your system. If the filter is a tightly woven high-MERV type, it could have the same effect as a dirty filter.

Your ductwork was designed to move a specific amount of air.  Choose a filter replacement that’s rated for it.

2. Dirty Condenser Coil

The condenser coil is outside. If you have a central air system, it’s inside the unit sitting beside your house. If you have a window air conditioner, it’s in the back of the unit, which faces outside.

air conditioning unit outside
Clean your air condenser coil/filter regularly.

The condenser coil carries your system’s coolant. Hot air is absorbed and removed from your home and travels outside. As it passes through your outdoor unit, a fan blows air over the coils and the heat is released.

However, if you have a dirty coil your air conditioner has to work harder. This means more than higher energy bills. It could also overheat and break down.

Solution. Clean your filter.

If you have a window unit, you should clean or replace the filter at the beginning or end of the season and every month during the season. Simply remove the front grill to access it.

If you have the type that can be cleaned, you can do so with a mild detergent and water. Just be sure to rinse it well.

If you have a central air unit, you need to be sure that airflow to the coil isn’t impeded. Regularly remove twigs, leaves, toys, or anything else that might be against the side.

Also, keep greenery away. Trim back hedges and plants and be sure not to let any tall grass grow around it.

3. Refrigerant Leak

As is the case with the above, a lack of enough refrigerant will cause your air conditioner to try to work hard. Then it overheats, possibly using more current than the breaker is capable of dealing with. So it trips.

A simple way to see if this is the cause is a lack of cold air blowing out your vents when the unit is running.

Solution: This is not a task for a homeowner—unless you happen to have the necessary certification. Refrigerant needs to be handled properly and requires a certified tech to do so.

4. There is a Short in the Motor

All summer long, your air conditioner runs. But motors weren’t built to run indefinitely and if it runs too hot, it can deteriorate the insulation around the wires. Which can lead to a short.

Shorts can lead to electrical fires, so this is where the breaker steps in and trips.

Solution: If you have access, you can do a visual check for burnt-looking wires. But this is a job for an HVAC professional or electrician.

Is a Tripping Breaker Dangerous?

Maybe. Especially if it’s tripped often.

As mentioned above, most of us have had to deal with a blown fuse or tripped breaker. And we reset or replace and carry on. But it’s a good idea to monitor that.

circuit breaker
A circuit breaker which trips regularly could be dangerous.

Meaning if something randomly trips, you reset, and if never happens again you can probably let it slide. But if you remember that you just went through this scenario in the last day, week, whatever, you should investigate.

Because a tripping circuit breaker could be dangerous.

What Causes a Breaker to Trip?
Overloaded CircuitThis is when you have more lights or appliances on a circuit than it can handle.
Short CircuitThis is when a hot wire and a neutral wire come in contact in one of your electrical outlets. This causes a spike in current and can start a fire.
Ground Fault SurgesThis happens when a hot wire touches the ground wire. Again, this causes a spike in current and can start a fire.
ARC FaultThis is another form of breaker. An AFCI or arc-fault circuit interrupter. These sense power fluctuations when a spark happens between two connections. 

As you can probably tell from the above, if your breaker is tripping due to an overloaded circuit, the solution is to simply unplug an appliance.

The other three are potentially dangerous so you should call an electrician.

Conclusion

If you have a window air conditioner that’s tripping a breaker you may just need to move it to another spot. As the table above shows, the AC could be overloading the circuit.

Or it could be something to do with how your air conditioner is running. If you haven’t been keeping up with maintenance, it could be overheating. This causes a rise in current, and your breaker trips to keep you safe.

So check the following:

  • Dirty air filter
  • Dirty condenser coil
  • Refrigerant leak
  • A short in the motor

The first two you can handle yourself, but for the others, you really should hire a pro.

Hopefully, we’ve been able to answer your questions. Why not check out our related articles below? Maybe we can help with something else.