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Why Does My Air Conditioner Keep Tripping the Circuit Breaker?

May 19, 2017

Did your A/C suddenly shut off? Has your circuit breaker tripped?

If that just happened for the first time, reset the breaker and see if it trips again when you run your A/C. If it doesn’t trip again, everything's probably fine.

But if the breaker does trip after you reset it, something’s not right. In this case, don’t try resetting it again—read this article instead...

Your circuit breaker is tripping because of these 2 reasons:

  1. Circuit/wiring issues

  2. Your A/C is using too much power

We’ll go into more detail about both of these causes and what you can do to stop your air conditioner from tripping the circuit breaker.

Let’s start with circuit/wiring issues...

Cause #1: Circuit/wiring issues

The reason why your circuit breaker keeps tripping may not have anything to do with your A/C at all. The problem could be with your circuit breaker and home wiring.

Wires in a circuit breaker panel

Wires in a circuit breaker panel

Loose electrical connections

Your breaker box has many connecting wires that can become disconnected or loose over time. Temperature changes cause wires to expand and contract, which is what makes them come loose.

Solution: An electrician will need to tighten the connections and replace any faulty wires.

Bad circuit breaker

Residential circuit breaker

A residential circuit breaker

Your circuit breaker protects your home from electrical damage. With general wear and tear, breakers can go bad over time, too. You’ll know your circuit breaker is bad if you notice these signs:

  • Circuit breaker is hot to the touch

  • Burning odor around the breaker

  • Black burn marks on the breaker

  • Frayed wires

Solution: Contact an electrician to take a look at your circuit breaker. For safety reasons, you shouldn’t attempt any electrical repairs on your own home. Electrical problems require the skills and safety of a licensed electrician.

Cause #2: Your A/C is using too much power

Let’s say your electrical equipment is fine. The next step is to look at your A/C, as it could be the culprit that’s causing your circuit breaker to trip.

Your A/C will trip the circuit breaker if it’s drawing more amps than your breaker can handle. What causes your A/C to draw too many amps?

There are many problems that cause your A/C to overheat and draw more power. Let’s go into a few of the most common issues...

Low refrigerant (which means there’s a leak)

If your A/C is leaking refrigerant, your A/C will have to work harder (and use more power) to cool your home’s air.

Solution: Contact a licensed professional to replace your A/C’s refrigerant and repair any leaks.

Bad capacitor

ac fan capacitor located in an outdoor ac unit

If you air conditioner is having trouble starting before the circuit breaker trips, it points to a bad capacitor. A capacitor is responsible for starting the compressor, and if the compressor has trouble starting, it could pull too many amps and trip the breaker. Sometimes capacitors wear out, so they’ll need to be replaced.

Solution: Contact an A/C contractor to replace the bad capacitor.

Shorted motor

Electric motors in your A/C can run for a long time, but if a motor runs for too long, the insulation around the wires can deteriorate and cause an electrical short.

A short is when electricity bypasses its normal path (like taking a shortcut), which allows more electricity to flow than the wires can handle. If you have a short, your circuit breaker will trip to prevent damage to your home and AC equipment.

Solution: Again, with any electrical repairs (whether with your A/C or home) need to be handled by a professional. Contact an HVAC contractor to determine if you have a shorted motor.

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.

Solution: The bad news is, if you have a grounded compressor, you’ll have to replace the compressor (an expensive part) or the whole outside unit. If your compressor isn’t 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.

Need an A/C professional in the Denver area?

Contact Plumbline to schedule an A/C repair today. We’ll get your air conditioner back up and running smoothly so your circuit breaker won’t trip anymore.

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