Why Does My AC Keep Tripping the Breaker?

From time to time, your AC will trip the breaker. Here’s what could be causing it and how to fix it.

As a technician, I have encountered many air conditioning issues, including breaker tripping. There are quite a few reasons why a breaker might trip. Even if the cause seems harmless, you should always stay careful and keep in mind that you should not reset the breaker.

What results in your air conditioner circuit breaker tripping?

  • Power Surge in Area
  • Bad Circuit Breaker 
  • Clogged Air Filter
  • Dirty Condenser Coil
  • Loose wires
  • Bad AC Wiring
  • Fan Motor Malfunction
  • Broken Coil Fan
  • Frozen Evaporator Coil
  • Refrigerant Leaks
  • Compressor Failure
  • Grounded Compressor

I’ll go into more detail below.

1. Power Surge in Your Area

This is the simplest case scenario.

A power surge in the nearby area, probably caused by a thunderstorm, can trip the breaker. This is the only occasion where you can simply turn the breaker back on.

Bear in mind that it is important to wait approximately thirty minutes after you switch on the AC circuit breaker before operating the air conditioning system.

2. Bad Circuit Breaker

The circuit breaker is the safety switch that turns off during a sudden current surge.

Whether it is old or new, it can be damaged due to a heavy load of work or large power surges. In this case, it might turn off to prevent electrical damage. Additionally, the same can happen while using a small breaker that cannot handle the voltage provided to the device.

You can spot an issue regarding the breaker if:

  • It can be hot to touch
  • It might smell like it is burning
  • It keeps tripping constantly.

You can change the breaker yourself, but you need to make sure that it can handle the right amount of amps that the AC requires.

3. Clogged Air Filter

Airflow is crucial for the air conditioning unit.

If debris and other elements clog the air filters, the AC’s motor has to work harder to draw air in and out. It receives high electricity levels, leading to overheating, which can cause power surges. Thus, the AC breaker keeps tripping.

The solution for this incident is to clean or replace the air filters.

4. Dirty Condenser Coil

The condenser coil releases heat produced during the AC’s usage while being exposed to outside elements.

If the user has neglected the air conditioner maintenance, that can remain an issue. The circuit breaker trips because the cooling system is not functioning properly, making the heat transfer to the outside environment harder.

One needs to call a technician to clean the condenser coil of grime and debris.

5. Loose Wires

This is a simple electrical issue that you can easily deal with.

In this category:

  • Loose connections
  • Failed capacitors
  • Shorts regarding wiring.

In this case, an electrician can find specifically the issue and repair it for you.

6. Bad AC Wiring

While this is an uncomplicated problem to fix, it might be dangerous if you keep your AC running.

In this case, some or all wires were placed incorrectly on the sockets, possibly during a thermostat change. Just bear in mind that:

  • The blue or yellow cord is matched to the Y terminal and aids the cooling process,
  • The red wire connects to the R terminal and gives power to the thermostat,
  • The -common- black wire goes to the C terminal.

You may want to call an electrician to ensure the wires are correctly connected to the sockets and fix such possible issues.

7. Fan Motor Malfunction

This will most likely happen due to clogged filters.

If the filters are not cleaned immediately, the AC’s fan motor will have to draw excessive amounts of power to keep the air conditioner’s system going. In this case, all you need to do is clean the air filters to prevent the circuit breaker from tripping due to overheating.

Another instance is a malfunction within the motor. That can happen due to overcharging the system. If that keeps the air conditioner breaker tripping, you need to call a technician to change your motor. 

8. Broken Coil Fan

Like most parts of the air conditioner, the coil fan runs because of the motor.

When one of the coil fans breaks or when a part goes missing, the motor needs to work hard enough to cover up for the defect. That makes the motor use a lot of electrical power, with the hazard of creating circuit shorts.

The best option is to call a technician to replace the broken coil fan or the missing piece.

9. Frozen Evaporator Coil

This incident can develop from maintenance neglect.

A tripping circuit breaker might occur when the evaporator coil gathers pieces of ice, decreasing the airflow. That happens because the motor needs to draw large amounts of current, creating circuit shortages.

You need to power off the unit and call a professional to ensure no further damage has been caused.

10. Refrigerant Leaks

Refrigerant leaks are an issue predominantly encountered in older devices.

The coils start to rust, leading to multiple cracks or holes within. As the refrigerant levels decrease, the motor runs intensely, drawing too much electricity, resulting in a tripping circuit breaker.

An air conditioner technician can replace the coils and fix the leaks.

11. Grounded Compressor

A compressor short to ground is a phrase used to describe this issue.

When a technician tells you that this is why the AC keeps tripping the breaker, you know that an electrical winding has detached from the compressor. Once it breaks off, it hits the side of the compressor, creating a sudden electrical current surge.

Your AC technician will have to replace the compressor and clean the refrigerant lines.

12. Compressor Failure

The heart of your air conditioner system lies within the compressor.

Failure of the compressor can develop from turning on the air conditioner circuit breaker after tripping. Ignoring the above-mentioned issues can also provoke failure.

Since the compressor is one of the most important parts of the air conditioner, you might need to replace the whole system with the help of a technician.

Wrapping Up

An AC system is a complicated unit that needs constant maintenance.

When one disregards the needs of the air conditioning system, that might lead to power surges and breakers tripping. In most cases, you need a technician to help you fix the issue.

You need to stay careful and remember to always keep your AC breaker shut after it trips.

Take a look at some of our related articles below.

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About Sam Orlovsky

b1d87d2ee85af3e51479df87928bdc88?s=90&d=mm&r=gCertifications: B.E.E.
Education: University Of Denver - Electric Engineering
Lives In: Denver Colorado

Electrical engineering is my passion, and I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. This gives me a unique ability to give you expert home improvement and DIY recommendations. I’m not only an electrician, but I also like machinery and anything to do with carpentry. One of my career paths started as a general handyman, so I also have a lot of experience with home improvement I love to share.

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