Your AC breaker is a safety feature that automatically turns off the system whenever a power overload is detected. If your air conditioner breaker keeps tripping, it’s because the system is taking in more amps than it’s rated for, which could happen for several reasons.
This happens to prevent damage to your equipment from overloaded circuits. So make sure that you don’t ignore the issue if it’s one that you’re having.
Most importantly, don’t continue to reset your AC breaker. Your main goal should be figuring out what the problem is so that you can solve it or hire a technician. We put together this article to help you do that, so keep reading to learn more.
Start with these steps
It bears repeating: You don’t want to just continue flipping back the breaker switch if it keeps tripping. Instead, follow these steps to start isolating the issue so that you can solve it safely:
- Turn off your air conditioner at the thermostat.
- Flip the AC circuit breaker switch into the “ON” position.
- Wait for about 15 minutes with the air conditioner off.
- Turn the air conditioner to the “COOL” setting.
Here’s what might happen next
After you complete the four steps shown above, there are three different things that might happen. We’ll cover each of those below.
1. It operates normally without tripping the breaker
If this happens, great! It’s a sign that your air conditioner is back to working normally. It means that your issue was likely tied to a momentary power surge or some other chance occurrence that won’t happen again.
These types of issues are generally not something you need to look further into unless they happen consistently. It’s often caused by a problem that’s external to your household.
2. It works for a while and then trips the breaker again
This could also happen, which can be frustrating. But the good news is that you may be able to solve the problem yourself. You can try replacing your AC air filter to see if that works.
Your air conditioner relies on a clean air filter to get the airflow that it needs to function properly. When the filter is dirty, the system has to work harder, and that can lead to overheating that trips the breaker.
Replacing your filter is super straightforward. You can refer to your owner’s manual to get step-by-step instructions that are specific to your system.
3. The breaker trips immediately
It’s also possible that the breaker will trip right away after you turn your AC back on. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that you’re likely going to be able to fix on your own. Instead, it’s time to call out an AC repair company to come and take a look at your unit.
You can also keep reading to learn more about the mechanical reasons why this keeps happening.
Here’s why your air conditioner breaker keeps tripping (from best-case to worst-case scenario)
The circuit breaker is faulty
This is the best-case scenario because it means that you need to fix the breaker, not your AC unit. It means that your issue will probably be less expensive to solve.
There are a few reasons why this could happen. One is that you may have a circuit breaker box that doesn’t give your home enough power. For example, a 4.5-ton air conditioner typically needs a 35A breaker to work correctly.
It may also be as simple as a loose wire. These can happen due to natural contractions and expansions that occur when the temperature changes over time.
Here are some of the top signs that you’ve got a bad breaker:
- There’s a burning smell near the breaker box. This can happen when wires and their insulation get overheated.
- Your breakers are hot to the touch. This is self-explanatory. The same heat that leads to your wires burning can also cause the breakers themselves to get warm.
- You can see visible damage on the circuit breaker.
The solution to a bad breaker is to replace it with a new one. You can confirm that this is necessary by seeing if a breaker is loose when you manipulate it.
The good news is that these are pretty inexpensive and not the most challenging thing to replace. But if you’re not comfortable with electrical work, then an electrician should be able to handle it for you at a reasonable price.
You have dirty condenser coils
It’s also possible that your air conditioner circuit breaker keeps tripping because you’ve got dirty condenser coils. This part’s job is to release heat from the inside of your home outside. It’s typically on your outer unit, which means it’s constantly exposed to the outside elements (wind, snow, etc.).
Condenser coils may get covered with various types of grime and debris periodically. When this happens, they aren’t able to release the heat that they need to. This causes your AC to work harder and can lead to overheating that trips the safety breaker.
You should be able to see this visibly, as most modern units discharge warm air out of the top.
Fixing this problem may be as simple as cleaning the condenser coils. You can open up your outdoor system and look for any dirt. When you see some, spray it with a cleaner and wipe it with a rag.
Luckily, you don’t need a complicated cleaning solution for this task. You can just mix together some warm water with your favorite cleaning product, and that should be enough.
Your fan motor is malfunctioning
The overheating problem that you’re experiencing may also be tied to your air conditioner’s fan motor.
This problem is similar to what can happen with your condenser coils. The same outside elements could reduce the efficiency of your fan, which causes the AC unit to have to work harder.
That creates a situation in which your air conditioner is drawing more electricity than it would normally need to compensate for the lack of efficiency. If this happens consistently, the capacitor can overload. And your air conditioner will trip your breaker as a result.
You can check for this issue by looking to see if your outdoor fan is spinning. If it is, then your problem may lie elsewhere. But if it’s not, you might have a broken fan motor that needs to be replaced. It will cost about $250 to $700 to replace on average.
That being said, make sure to look into the various reasons why a fan may not be spinning. Because it can be indicative of several different problems.
Your evaporator coils have frozen
It’s also possible that your evaporator coils have frozen, and that’s causing your AC circuit breaker to trip continuously. This can happen when too many debris accumulates in your system and airflow is reduced.
This is a pretty straightforward issue to spot. Simply take a look at your evaporator coils and see if there’s any ice on them. You may also want to check for puddles of water nearby in case they’ve recently thawed.
The solution is to give your evaporator coils 24 hours to thaw out. While that’s going on, you can clean the coils to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
You may also want to give your entire air conditioner a thorough cleaning and swap out the air filter. The cleaner your system is, the more airflow that it gets. And that will decrease your chances of experiencing frozen coils again the next time you use your air conditioner.
You’ve got low refrigerant levels
Air conditioners use refrigerant to cool down the air that they process. This liquid is designed to be a closed loop that doesn’t need topping up under normal circumstances.
However, sometimes you can get punctures in your refrigerant lines, which lead to lower refrigerant levels over time. This will cause your system to pull in too much power and may lead to tripped breakers.
The only solution to this problem is to call an HVAC professional. Refrigerant is a toxic liquid that isn’t safe to deal with unless you know the proper way to do so. To avoid putting yourself or your family at risk, it’s best to let a professional take over from here.
The compressor isn’t starting
Finally, the problems you’ve been experiencing could also stem from the compressor itself. It may have trouble starting, which could cause it to draw in too much power and trip the breaker immediately.
Normal AC units should turn on within about a second of the time that you flip the switch. If your air conditioner takes longer than that to get going, it’s a big sign that you’ve got a compressor issue.
The unfortunate news is that compressor repairs and replacement cost about $1,250 on average. That means it may make more sense to just replace your system with a new one at this point—especially if you’ve had the current AC for a long time already.
Either way, your next step is to call an HVAC professional so they can diagnose the problem and advise you on your options.
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