Does Your Air Conditioner Trip The Circuit Breaker? Here's What You Need To Know

Posted on: 9 December 2015

After your thermostat, your circuit breaker is the next likely place you'll look when your A/C system suddenly cuts out. Your first inclination may be to reset the breaker switch for the A/C and go back to whatever you're doing--at least until it trips again. If this has happened to you several times in a row, then it may be time to get to the bottom of the problem.

How Your Home's Circuit Breaker Works

Circuit breakers serve as an electrical fail-safe that keep the electrical circuits throughout your home from being overloaded when exposed to greater-than-normal surges of electricity. In essence, this keeps your appliances and wiring in your home from being fried and catching fire when too much electricity starts to flow through to circuits.

Think of the circuit breaker as a safety valve that shuts off when too much current flows through the circuit it's connected to. For instance, if 30 amps of electricity suddenly go through an appliance rated for 20 amps, a 20-amp circuit breaker will trip and immediately disconnect the circuit.

Common Issues That Could Cause a Trip

If your A/C system suddenly trips the circuit breaker, then chances are the unit is working harder than it normally should be. Here are some common issues that could cause this problem to happen:

  • The air filter is clogged and needs replacement. Believe it or not, a dirty air filter is one of the most common causes of circuit breaker-related A/C issues. Once the air filter is packed full of dust and debris, it becomes much harder for the A/C to draw adequate amounts of indoor air through the return air vent. To compensate, the blower fan works harder to draw air in, which eventually draws more current than the circuit was designed to handle.
  • The condenser coil and/or evaporator is frozen or caked with dirt. A blocked condenser or evaporator coil has the same effect as a clogged air filter – without adequate air flow, the A/C system has to work harder to maintain the same level of performance.
  • Your A/C system is low on refrigerant. Low refrigerant levels can cause the compressor to work harder than usual to circulate refrigerant throughout the A/C system, creating higher current draws that could eventually trip the circuit breaker.
  • Loose wiring is causing short circuits. Loose or degraded wiring can create short-circuits that could trip the circuit breaker.
  • Your compressor or some other major component is on the cusp of failure. A defective or worn out compressor, relay, capacitor or switch could draw larger-than-normal amounts of electrical current.

How to Fix the Problem

The first step toward solving circuit breaker issues is to make sure the issue isn't just a random fluke. It is possible for a random current spike to trip the circuit, only for the problem to go away and not come back. When you reset the circuit breaker, you should do so once and only once. If the circuit breaker trips again within minutes or even an hour or two of resetting your A/C system, then you may need to tackle the following tasks:

  • Immediately change your air filter. Not only can it alleviate airflow problems that may have had a hand in your A/C system's circuit breaker issues, but it's also beneficial for your indoor air quality.
  • Go through your A/C system's wiring with a fine-toothed comb. If you happen to spot any frayed or damaged wiring, have your HVAC contractor repair or replace the wiring.
  • Make sure your evaporator and condenser coils are clean and free of any surface buildup. All it takes to clean a condenser coil is a garden hose and a sturdy shop vacuum. For the evaporator coil, you should use a foaming air conditioner coil cleaner for the best results.
  • Have your HVAC contractor inspect your A/C system's refrigerant levels, as well as your compressor and other A/C components. Any components that appear damaged or worn out should be replaced.

If you're still having problems out of the circuit breaker for your A/C system, you may want to have a licensed electrician take a close look at the wiring circuit connecting the A/C to the rest of your home's electrical system. For more information, contact a company like Nu-Temp Associates Heating & Cooling.