Those of you who read our articles regularly, know that we are a small, U.S. Veteran-Owned HVAC company in Southern California, and pride ourselves in giving people honest, straight answers to their questions. So, what do you do if your air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping? Many HVAC contractors will tell you to call in a professional, but some of our more frequent readers are figuring out by now that many of the things you often call a contractor out for can be done yourself for a lot cheaper. A situation in which an air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping is no different, and be wary of anyone who tells you otherwise! Trust me, it isn’t rocket science, and you can start troubleshooting yourself when an air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping – without calling out an expensive HVAC contractor. In this article we will work our way through the troubleshooting process from the most likely causes, to more unlikely (and varsity) situations in which an AC circuit breaker keeps tripping.
Why Does My Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keep Tripping? – How Circuit Breakers Work.
As usual, I will start with a short rant about how things work – a 101 on circuit breakers, if you will. If you are already familiar, then skip to the next section.
So what the hell is a circuit breaker anyway? If you want to see why your air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping, you’ll need to find out. A circuit breaker is a safety switch built into the electrical system of your house. Simply put, it is a safety switch that will stop electrical flow to a household component before that component can fry itself and start an electrical fire.
For instance, let’s say that you have some part of your air conditioner that is rated to withstand 20 amps of electricity. What this means is that if you were to pass 30 amps of electricity through that component, you’d likely fry the component, at best requiring you to call out an HVAC contractor, and at worst starting an electrical fire. Now, enter the roll of the circuit breaker – in your properly installed system, a 20-amp circuit breaker would be installed. What this breaker would do, is ensure that if any amperage greater than 20 amps were to be introduced to your system, the circuit break would trip and your air conditioning system would turn off before you would get an electrical fire or fry your expensive electrical components.
Now that we know what a circuit breaker is designed for, allow me to introduce one safety note that you should keep in mind – if you forget everything else that I mention in this post, then remember this:
Important Safety Note: Only reset a tripped circuit breaker ONCE, and never more than once. Never tape it shut, and it should NEVER feel hot to the touch.
The circuit breaker is tripping for a reason, and until you know what that reason is, allow the circuit breaker to do its job and keep you safe. For more information on circuit breakers than you would ever want to know, check out the Wikipedia link: Circuit Breakers
Troubleshooting When Your Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping.
We will work our way through some of the more obvious causes for a tripped AC circuit breaker. You’d be surprised at how many times the simplest answer seems to be the correct one – I’ll forgo the rant on Occam’s Razor for now and cut right to the chase.
1. Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping – Reset Your Air Conditioner’s Circuit Breaker (ONCE, and ONLY once!).
Always be careful with resetting a circuit breaker. If it keeps tripping, then something is wrong! Reset it once and only once, and see if your unit runs normally. Sometimes, the “gremlins” get into your electrical system and what we used to call a “stray tron” in the Navy gets the better of your system.
Always reset a circuit breaker by ensuring that it is fully in the OFF position first (if not, move it there), then turning it back ON. Wait and see what it does after a few minutes of running. If the circuit breaker trips the second that your air conditioner turns on, then there is nothing more that you can do yourself – leave the circuit breaker off and call your local HVAC repairman. The problem has to do with wiring or a short circuit – something you don’t want to deal with.
If it doesn’t trip again, then it might have been a power surge from a thunderstorm, or something like that. A good indicator that this is just a one-time incident is to look at some of your other household equipment. If your stove and microwave all have blinking “RESET CLOCK” lights and your air conditioner isn’t working, common sense would dictate that this probably isn’t a problem with your air conditioning system. Reset it, and see what happens…then reset your clocks. If the circuit breaker trips again (but not immediately after the unit turned on, then continue with step two.
2. AC Circuit Breaker Still Tripping? Check Your Air Conditioning Filter.
The reasons for you to regularly change your air conditioning filter are numerous, as are the benefits to both your health and the longevity of your air conditioner (more can be found in: Air Conditioning Filter Change). However, what you might not realize is that a clogged air conditioning filter can also cause your air conditioner’s circuit breaker to trip.
Your air conditioner works by taking warm air out of your house, filtering it, then blowing the warm air over chilled coils called “evaporator coils.” These coils absorb some of the heat and then transfer it outside of your house, cooling the air inside of your house (for a more in-depth version, try: How Does Air Conditioning Work?). If your AC filter is clogged though, the airflow to your unit is interrupted, causing it to work longer and harder than if it were a fresh, unobstructed filter. Over time, this can cause your air conditioner to overheat and trip your circuit breaker. Think about it this way – you have to run a mile. Which is easier, a nice casual downhill stroll or a mile run up the side of a mountain? The same thing goes for your air conditioner – just as you have to run a mile, one way or another, your AC has to cool your house to your requested temperature, one way or another. Make the job as easy for it as you possibly can. First things first; check your air filter.
3. Check Your Condenser Coil After an Air Conditioning Circuit Breaker has Tripped.
For the same reasons as step one, you need to check your condenser coil. Once the heat that was removed out of your household air (in step one) gets outside, it has to be transferred into the outside air for the process to begin again. To do this, a fan blows outside air over the coil that is outside of your house, called a “condenser coil.” Make sure that this is free of dirt, leaves and debris. If it isn’t, then clean it out with your garden hose. Again, think about this as your air conditioner having to run a mile; does it want to run uphill or downhill? Clean the coils and make it easier.
Unfortunately, this is where the DIY troubleshooting should end, in my humble opinion. Some situations can be taken all the way to a conclusion by your average handyman, but messing with your refrigerant and wiring probably isn’t one of them! The good news is that you have already ruled out 60 percent of what could be the issue. Here are a few things to be educated on, however, before your local contractor shows up:
4. Low Refrigerant Can Cause an AC Circuit Breaker to Trip.
Unfortunately, this is not something that you can do yourself, but the next likely cause would be low refrigerant. Like stated in steps one and two, the most likely cause for a tripped circuit breaker is some kind of change in the system – asking more out of your air conditioner than you did before. Low Freon or other types of commercial refrigerant can cause your air conditioner to work harder than it did before. A tripped circuit breaker can be a sign of this, so have your local HVAC technician check your refrigerant levels and do a vacuum check on your system if need be to rule out leaks.
5. Loose Wiring, Aging Components and Short Circuits Can be a Factor if Your Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping.
Over time and with the changing of seasons, wires will expand and contract, working themselves loose. An air conditioner has an average lifespan of somewhere around 8-15 years, depending on your location and how well you’ve taken care of it. As you might imagine, an air conditioner in Santa Clarita, California will get a lot more use than an AC unit in Bozeman, Montana. This too, unfortunately, will have to be handled by a professional.
Final Thoughts on When an Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping
If you are still having trouble, and what your contractor is telling you doesn’t make sense, it might be worth hiring us for a consultation just to give you piece of mind. More information can be found at ASM Air Conditioning Consultation Services.
Keep it simple; as you can see with most of these troubleshooting guides, always work your way from the simplest and most common explanation to the more unlikely ones. Even if your air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping, be patient, and rule out the most likely causes. If all else fails, then call in a professional. 60 percent of the time, it is something you could handle yourself, but if it comes down to it, here are some tips for choosing a reputable HVAC contractor near you: How to Choose an HVAC Contractor. If you live near Santa Clarita, San Diego or the Los Angeles area, click below to see if you are in our service area – we’d be happy to answer any questions you might have: