Is your AC tripping your circuit breakers, and you’ve no idea why?
That sucks! ACs are extremely helpful during hot summer days when all you want is a chilled Margarita and constant cool airflow.
I know how having your AC trip your circuit breaker can be very annoying and concerning, as not only do you have to stop using the appliance, but you’re also left in a situation where the possibility of expensive repairs becomes real.
But don’t worry; you’ve come to the right place for answers. Below, you’ll find a list including 8 common causes and fixes for the problem.
When your AC is tripping your circuit breakers, it can be due to an overloaded circuit, a dirty air filter, dirty condenser coils, or refrigerant issues. The problem can also arise from a short circuit, a faulty circuit breaker, a motor/compression malfunction, or using a breaker that’s not the right size.
Keep reading to stop your breakers from tripping!
Why Your AC Is Tripping Your Circuit Breakers
ACs are a wonderful solution for hot days, but they also draw a lot of power and can skyrocket your electricity bills if you’re not careful. Given how power-hungry ACs are, it’s no wonder that the minimum issue with them can cause your circuit breakers to trip.
Over the years, I’ve found that while there are many possible reasons to explain why an AC trips circuit breakers, some are more common than others. To help save you time, money, and effort, here are the elements that, in my opinion, are most likely to blame.
#1 An Overloaded Circuit
An overloaded circuit is the first common cause when an AC is tripping a circuit breaker. Although modern houses are equipped with circuits that are much more resistant to heavy electrical loads than older homes, there’s still a limit to how much they can take.
When you have several appliances and external devices running into the same electrical circuit as your AC, there’s a high possibility of a circuit overload that will immediately trip the breakers in your home.
Solution: The easiest way to prevent circuit overloads is by seeing which appliances are running on the same circuit and redistributing them more efficiently. If you’re unsure which appliances run on which circuit, my usual advice is to check your home’s plans for an accurate electrical layout.
Alternatively, you can try flipping all the breakers in your home to the “OFF” position and flipping them back on one by one to see which sections and appliances they restore power to. It’s much more of a hassle, but if you’re not well-versed in reading architectural plans, it can be a good alternative.
If you want a professional to take a closer look, more power to you. Granted, you’ll have to pay for the visit, but it will be an effective way of addressing the issue or at least diagnosing it more accurately.
#2 A Dirty Air Filter
Next, let’s consider dirty air filters as another possible reason why your AC is tripping your circuit breakers. The filters in your AC help prevent foreign particles, bugs, and other elements from entering the appliance and causing damage. When the filters are clean, airflow is unrestricted, but over time, they can get excessively dirty and cause problems.
If your AC’s filters are dirty, the appliance will have to work much harder than it should to deliver the results you’re expecting and reach the temperature you’ve set, causing it to overstrain and overheat.
Temporal overstraining of your AC might not cause problems at first, but if you keep running the appliance with dirty filters, it’s bound to trip your circuit breakers sooner rather than later.
Solution: Typically, I recommend cleaning/replacing AC filters at least once every two months to ensure the best airflow. Replacing your AC’s air filters is quick, easy, and cheap, so there’s no good reason to put it off for long.
Note: Dirty air filters can also make the AC use more power than necessary to deliver the same results, so if your electric bills are suddenly higher than normal, this could be why.
#3 Dirty Condenser Coils
Dirty condenser coils are also common culprits when an AC is tripping circuit breakers. Your AC works by removing hot air from the environment, passing it through a series of coils, and then blowing the cool air back into the room.
But the removed heat has to go somewhere, right?
That’s where the evaporator and condenser coils come in. Evaporator coils inside Air Conditioners absorb the heat from the air, whereas condenser coils exhaust the excess heat removed from the air. When both coils are clean and working normally, you can expect a cool breeze from your AC without any major issues.
However, I’ve found that if you let the coils get too dirty over the years, the appliance can overstrain, resulting in tripped breakers, sky-high electricity bills, and inefficient cooling.
- Typically, condenser coils can be found in an external unit outside your home. Locate the unit and cut off power to it to eliminate the risk of electrocution.
- Remove the bolts/screws holding the top of the external unit in place.
- Remove the top part of the condenser unit carefully, as there are cables connected to the unit’s top lid that you don’t want to pull on too hard or strain accidentally. Also, be careful not to damage the blades of the fan connected to the top lid.
- Get a vacuum cleaner and remove all the debris sitting at the bottom of the condenser unit (leaves, dead insects, etc.).
- Get a coil cleaner from a hardware store. There are several great options on the market, so as long as you read customer reviews, any option should do the job nicely. Ensure you’re wearing gloves and safety glasses before applying the cleaner to protect your hands.
- Spray the coils with the cleaner, ensuring you get every nook and cranny covered.
- Wait a couple of minutes for the coil cleaner to do its job.
- Rinse the cleaner off the coils with a garden hose, but be careful not to use high-pressure water, as it can bend and damage the coils.
- Once the coils are sparkling clean, put the unit’s lid back on and screw it securely into place.
- Restore power to the external unit from your circuit breakers and try running the AC to see whether the issue was resolved.
#4 Refrigerant Issues
The next possible reason why your AC is tripping your circuit breaker is that you’re having refrigerant issues. The refrigerant inside your AC is responsible for helping in the process of cooling air. The appliance uses its condenser and evaporator coils along with the compressor to remove excess air from your living spaces.
The compressor pumps the refrigerant throughout the appliance, helping the liquid do its job. However, I’ve found that if there’s a refrigerant leak or low levels of it present on your AC, the compressor can overstrain, leading to overheating and tripped breakers.
Solution: The easiest and fastest way to tell whether you have a refrigerant leak in your AC is by looking for frosted coils inside the appliance. It’s also possible that the refrigerant simply needs to be topped up.
In either case, my usual advice is that you call an HVAC technician to check your refrigerant levels and refill them if necessary.
#5 A Short Circuit
Short circuits are also common culprits when an AC is tripping circuit breakers. Your AC several wires running inside it that help it communicate with each of its components and deliver the results you want from it.
Under normal circumstances, the wiring is always in good condition, allowing for signals to run through each cable. However, over time, the wires can become loose, frayed, or damaged, causing a short circuit that will trip your breakers.
Solution: With wiring, it’s all about careful observation, so you’ll have to remove your AC’s external covers to expose the cables inside it and inspect them. Best case scenario, the problem lies not with a damaged cable but rather a loose one that’s making contact with something metal.
Given that you’re dealing with wires, you’ll need your AC’s wiring diagram and a little bit of knowledge to do a proper inspection. Please, before tampering with the AC, ensure that power to the appliance has been completely shut off to eliminate the risk of electrocution.
You can usually find your AC’s wiring diagram in your User Manual or your manufacturer’s website. If you no longer have the manual, please refer to our free resource below.
If you still can’t find the wiring diagram, give your manufacturer a call and ask where you can locate the wiring diagram. Alternatively, call an HVAC technician to check your appliance.
#6 A Faulty Circuit Breaker
Next, let’s stop blaming the AC itself and start focusing on your circuit breakers for a while. Faulty circuit breakers can also cause an AC to trip them for various reasons.
As I mentioned earlier, circuit breakers are designed to withstand a certain amount of current going into them, and the older the house, the less resistant its circuit breaker. If you add malfunction of the circuit breaker into the mix, the results can be exactly what you’re currently experiencing.
Circuit breakers can become faulty over time due to wear and tear, damage, and other factors.
Solution: One of the simplest ways to tell whether your circuit breaker is faulty is by looking at how your other appliances run. In my experience, if you’re often experiencing tripped breakers, even when the AC isn’t running, there’s a good chance that the appliance isn’t at fault.
If you’re sure your circuit breaker is to blame for the situation, my usual advice is to have it replaced. Since a circuit breaker replacement is a complex and often dangerous task, I recommend you call an electrician and let them take care of the job, as they have the right tools and skill set to stay safe during the process.
#7 Motor/Compressor Malfunction
Motor/compressor malfunction can also be to blame when your AC is tripping your circuit breakers. As discussed above, the compressor/motor is responsible for circulating refrigerant throughout your AC to cool the surrounding air and deliver good results.
However, when the compressor fails, even if there’s enough refrigerant, the AC won’t cool normally. Using an AC with a faulty compressor can quickly lead to overstraining and overheating, which often results in tripped circuit breakers due to an overload.
Solution: Diagnosing and addressing a faulty AC compressor is not easy, so it’s best to leave the job to a professional. An HVAC technician can not only help you determine whether the compressor is to blame for the situation but can also give you a quotation on the potential cost of repairs/replacement of the compressor.
#8 A Wrong-Sized Circuit Breaker
Lastly, let’s consider the possibility that the reason your AC is tripping your circuit breakers is that the circuit breakers themselves are undersized in relation to your home appliances’ requirements.
While it’s not common knowledge, the more power and electrical load home appliances require in conjunction, the larger the circuit breaker of the home must be. If your home has a circuit breaker that cannot withstand the power output and draw your AC requires, you’ll likely experience tripped breakers often.
Solution: A telltale sign that your circuit breakers are not large enough to cover your appliances’ requirements is that you start having problems as soon as you bring in a new power-hungry appliance into the mix.
If you just bought your AC and everything was okay before installing it, there’s a good chance that you’ll need larger circuit breakers to properly handle it along with your other appliances. Like the previous step, I don’t recommend you take on replacing your circuit breaker yourself, as it can be a complex and dangerous task.
Please get in touch with a professional electrician to do the replacement for you.
Addressing an AC That’s Tripping Your Circuit Breakers
That about covers it!
When your AC is tripping your circuit breakers, it’s normal to be worried about why it’s happening and whether you’ll have to shell out a large amount of money to get things back to normal.
Luckily, as I hope this piece has helped you better understand, addressing the most common causes behind an AC that’s tripping your circuit breakers can be easy and quick. More often than not, something as simple as ensuring that the filters and condenser coils are clean and unobstructed will do the trick.
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Have a wonderful day!