Is your ac unit constantly tripping the circuit breaker? Do you find it in constant need of repair? In this article, we break down the cause and effect behind problems with an AC unit’s circuit breaker, and solutions you can use to fix the problem.
What can cause an AC tripping circuit breaker?
Are you wondering “Why is my air conditioner tripping the breaker?” A circuit breaker can fail or trip for a variety of reasons. A few of the main culprits could be:
The breaker could be unreliable
While rare, a once-sturdy and reliable switch can weaken over time and trip, or even stop working entirely. This is easily solved by buying a new one and replacing the switch, either yourself or at the hands of a professional technician.
The compressor and/or fan can draw too many amps
This problem can have a variety of causes:
For example, if a motor gets stuck and doesn’t react properly to applied voltage, it will pull more amps. This can cause heat to generate in the wiring and cause the ac unit tripping breaker. While not tripping it automatically, it can trip when the thermostat signals the AC to turn on.
This pattern often happens with the compressor when the cool season starts. The compressor pumps refrigerant through the lines, and when this component fails or works irregularly, it can cause problems with the circuit breaker as well.
If the capacitor is in working order, adding a hard-start capacitor to the circuit can give it the boost it needs to spin the motor and get things going. Beware, however; this is an indication of a failing unit. Consider budgeting for a new compressor or ac unit, as it may fail at an unexpected time.
A breaker can also trip because of an electrical short. This is caused when hot wire touches a path it’s not supposed to, such as a neutral wire. When the system is on and the power is active, the system can overload and the breaker can trip. The breaker will instantly trip when voltage is applied.
The breaker will also trip if a wire from the motor touches the inner walls of the compressor. The windings within the motor help spin the motor sheath, and these windings should be covered to shield the wiring. However, this is still a cause, primarily on older systems that have been active for 10-20 years or longer. The electricity grounds into the floor, and the ac unit keeps tripping breaker.
Incorrect refrigerant pressure
Refrigerant pressure at the wrong level can trip the AC breaker and cause other trouble. High levels of refrigerant pressure causes the compressor to strain to work properly, causing a breaker trip eventually. This problem is rarer than other ones, but can look like a bad compressor.
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How to solve problems when AC keeps tripping breaker
When the breaker is unreliable
This problem is easily solved by buying a new breaker and replacing the switch, either yourself or at the hands of a professional.
Look for identifying signs of short circuiting: visible burns on wiring, burning smells, or flickering lights. Confirm potential shorts with a multimeter.
When wiring is out of place
If a breaker is tripping because exposed wires are touching the inner walls of the compressor, covering the exposed wires will shield the current.
When refrigerant pressure is incorrect
Removing a pound of refrigerant should indicate a pressure issue, and your gauges should vary a bit. If this happens AND the temperature splits hovers between 18-22 degrees, you can remove refrigerant until the compressor amps drop below the RLA, and the temp split remains within range. If removing the refrigerant isn’t working, you might want to replace all the old refrigerant with virgin refrigerant and a factory charge. If you’ve done this and checked all other components on the system, and the compressor still pulls high amps, you have a bad compressor.
These are just some of the reasons your home’s circuit breaker would trip the breaker in the main electrical panel. If it trips immediately when turning it back on, it is likely a wiring problem. If it trips after a certain time period, there is an issue with a component in the AC system.
Let a professional do the fixing. We don’t advise that anyone take on these problems by themselves, and as a matter of fact, you might not even be able to purchase the parts you need for a DIY fix. Contact a profession to diagnose and fix the problem for the best possible outcome.
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How can maintenance prevent my AC tripping breaker?
Active maintenance on your AC unit will prevent wear and tear on the unit, and extend both its lifespan and quality. Think of an AC unit as a car engine; changing the oil or filling the tires can help prevent much larger issues later on. In the same way, monitoring your HVAC system can help prevent large-scale over time. To solve the question of “Why does my air conditioner breaker keep tripping,” we outline below how you can actively clean and maintain your AC unit.
To begin, read the manufacturer manual
If you don’t have a paper manual, you may be able to find it online. Make notes of maintenance periods and dates for your ac unit and all other components of your HVAC system; chillers, boilers, motors, etc. These manuals provide a standard for your HVAC upkeep, and work to keep your house in proper order.
To clean off the external unit: (Condenser and Compressor)
Power off the main unit
When cleaning the ac unit, you want to ensure no power is traveling through it. You can either remove the breaker/block or move the switch to the off position. If this isn’t possible, you can also switch off power to the AC condenser at your main electrical panel.
Clear debris in and around the unit
Most debris will get stuck in the condenser fins, and this area needs to carefully be cleaned away. You can use a rough paint brush to deal with easy-to-remove debris, and follow up with your vacuum and brush attachment. Remove debris and plant growth that is within 2 feet of the unit.
Clean and straighten the AC fins
Fins can collect debris that is not easily removed with a brush. Instead, an old knife can scrape out debris that is stuck between the fins, and reshape any damaged or bent fins.
Clean the condenser fan
This is another area where debris needs to be cleaned regularly. This component can be wiped with a damp cloth and left to dry in the sun.
Cleaning the fins inside out
The best way to clean the fins is by spraying them with a garden host. This removes caked-on dirt that other methods wouldn’t dislodge. Take care to not get water on the fan motor, and if the motor doesn’t have sealed bearings, check the fan lubrication as well. A few drops of electric motor oil should work nicely.
To clean the internal unit: (Evaporator and Blower)
Clean the evaporator coil
The evaporator coil door can be found inside the blower/furnace unit and accumulates lots of debris. Use a soft brush to remove dust, then spray with a no-rinse coil cleaner to remove other gunk and improve efficiency.
Clean the evaporator drain
The evaporator drain can get clogged due to algae and mold buildup, and needs to be unplugged. A clogged drain can cause flooding and stop the unit from functioning until the water is drained. Clogs can also cause odor to build up and leak from the unit. A wet/dry vacuum cleaner can remove debris from the evaporator drain.
Change the blower filter
This step changes depending on where you live. In dusty environments (such as here in Sacramento), filter changes are necessary more often, typically right before the starting of the “heating” and “cooling” seasons. The filter is typically found at the end of the fresh air return duct.
Completing all these steps should ensure your HVAC and AC unit stay clean and regulate temperature more effectively. When all parts are dry and in place, you can turn on the power and test that the unit works correctly. This maintenance will prevent issues where the air conditioner trips circuit breaker.
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Consider Alpha Mechanical Your Trusted Partner
Still wondering “Why does my ac keep tripping the breaker?” After you have made all the necessary diagnostics to your HVAC unit and are still unable to get the system online, you may need help from your local professionals. Alpha Mechanical professionally services the people and equipment of Sacramento and the surrounding areas. With many years of service under our belt, Alpha Mechanical offers the best quality service and results for our customers.
Our experienced technicians are ready to help diagnose and repair any issue you might have with your AC and HVAC systems, all at an affordable price. We offer purchasing solutions with convenient coupons and partnerships with various banks to secure financing for our customers.
With this knowledge, you should be able to avoid issues where the air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping. To keep your AC unit working at its full capacity, make sure to clean and service it as necessary. To diagnose why an AC unit may be tripping the circuit breaker, try our tips above. Or, you can contact a NATE certified HVAC professional such as Alpha Mechanical for residential and commercial HVAC service in Sacramento.
Contact us 916.848.5980 and we will get your AC system working great again.
Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions
AC breakers may be tripping due to faulty wiring, damaged or dirty components, and improper servicing can cause problems or total failure to an ac unit.
Here are some recommendations you can follow in order to prevent the AC breaker from tripping. Constantly inspect the unit for dirty/clogged components, loose wires, or damaged/failing parts. Replace or clean the parts, and if necessary, hire professional help for additional diagnosis and repair.
In order to extend the life of your AC unit, you can follow simple recommendations like, reading your unit’s manual to find unit-specific tips and maintenance dates. Keep components of the unit clean and serviced, and when necessary, hire professionals for in-depth and specialized service.