Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping? A Minnesota Tech Explains
During the Minnesota’s hot, humid summers, you probably noticed that your air conditioner was blowing hot air or not working at all.
Eventually you discovered that the AC’s circuit breaker tripped...and then it tripped again. Why?
Well, an air conditioner circuit breaker usually trips for one of 8 reasons:
- Dirty filter
- Dirty condenser coils
- Bad/Faulty breaker
- Old compressor
- Grounded compressor
- Low refrigerant
- Loose wires
- Shorted motor
Now, safety tip: DON’T keep resetting the breaker. Reset it only when you’ve found the root problem and fixed it. Otherwise the excess electric current could damage your air conditioner (circuit breakers don’t last forever, you know?).
Want this problem fixed ASAP and live in Minnesota? Contact On Time Service Pros for a professional AC repair.
Want to learn more about these problems? We’ll show you the ones you can solve versus problems a tech needs to solve.
Problems you can solve
Dirt filter (right) next to a clean filter (left)
Your breaker might have tripped because the filter is too dirty.
Why would this trip the breaker? Well, a dirty filter restricts airflow to the blower, causing the AC fan motor to work harder to circulate air. Think of like like trying to breathe with a blanket over your head.
This extra work can cause an electrical overload (that is, pulling more current than the circuit than handle) and trip the circuit breaker.
Solution: Change the air filter. You should check your filter at least once a month to see if it needs changing.
Dirty condenser coils
A dirty condenser unit. Most likely also has a dirty condenser coil.
Your breaker may have tripped because your outside unit’s coils are dirty, causing the AC to overheat and trip the breaker.
Why does a dirty outside unit cause the breaker to trip? To understand, you need to know how an air conditioner works. (If you don’t really care, just jump down to the solution section. You won’t hurt our feelings).
Here’s the cliffsnotes version of how an AC works:
Your AC creates cold air by absorbing heat in the air, then dumping it outside.
This process requires 2 units:
- Inside unit: Absorbs heat from the air using refrigerant (commonly called “Freon”- a refrigerant brand name) and sends that hot refrigerant outside to the...
- Outside unit (pictured below): Dumps the heat outside via the fan and condenser coil, copper tubes that carry the refrigerant.
Damaged air conditioner showing condensing coil. Original image source: cspi2002 on YouTube
With us so far?
Now, if the outside unit’s coils get covered with dirt, it struggles to disperse heat, causing temperature and pressure to rise in the condenser coils and drawing more electrical current (amps). This overcurrent trips the breaker.
Summary: dirty outside unit = temperature and pressure rise = too much electrical current = tripped breaker
Solution: Wash the outside unit. It should be cleaned annually regardless of how clean it looks since coils can have dirt packed in the fins where you cannot see.
You can clean the outside unit by following these instructions
Gather these tools:
- Air conditioner coil cleaner
- Water hose with sprayer
- Gloves and eye protection
Follow these steps:
1. Find the electrical disconnect (a grey metal box) near your outside unit.
2. Open the electrical disconnect and find the switch that turns off the air conditioner. This may be a pull out switch or a circuit breaker type switch. Turn the switch to the “off” position.
3. Pull off any loose debris (leaves, limbs etc) on the outside unit.
4. Spray the outside unit with the coil cleaner.
5. Wait 10-15 minutes as the cleaner foams and bonds with the dirt on the coils. (If directions say differently, follows those instructions)
6. Rinse the coil cleaner off with the hose on a gentle setting.
IMPORTANT: You’ll want to choose a gentle sprayer setting because you don’t want to bend or damage any of the fins surrounding the condenser coil. These fins help direct airflow and damaging them will reduce your system’s efficiency. Basically, you’ll be throwing money away.
Now if the above are not the problem, then you need a technician’s help. Let’s briefly cover some problems they may have to solve.
Problems a technician needs to fix
The breaker may be tripping because it’s old and has gone bad.
Solution: The technician just needs to replace the breaker, a relatively inexpensive job.
The compressor is your AC’s heart, pumping refrigerant throughout the system. However, as the compressor ages, it struggles to start up and starts pulling more electricity than the circuit can handle. This overcurrent trips the breaker.
Solution: A technician may be able to install a “hard start kit” that helps the compressor turn on with ease.
This is the worst case scenario.
A grounded compressor means that one of the electrical windings inside the compressor has broken and hit the side of the compressor, causing a direct “short to ground”. That just means
the electricity goes straight to the ground, pulling more electrical current than the circuit can handle, which causes the breaker to trip.
In this scenario, a short to ground will ignite the compressor’s oil, causing a burnout.
Solution: if this is the problem, you need a new compressor. And those cost a ton! Therefore, if your compressor is not covered by your warranty, you’re better off paying for a new unit.
When your AC is low on refrigerant, it struggles to keep your home cool. Meaning its run times can get insane, causing the AC to overheat, pull in too much electric current and trip the breaker.
Solution: Your technician needs to first examine the system for refrigerant leaks, which is the the main cause of low refrigerant. Once the tech finds the leak, they need to evacuate what refrigerant you have, fix the leak, and add in the appropriate amount of refrigerant.
BEWARE: If the tech says you’re low on refrigerant, but does not inform you of a refrigerant leak, they may be trying to scam you. Because they can just add refrigerant, let it leak out and then add more later. And refrigerant isn’t cheap (it can be $100+ per pound depending on the supply remaining).
As seasons change, wires in the breaker will expand and contract, working themselves loose. This can cause the breaker to trip.
Solution: The tech needs to find the loose wire and tighten it.
If you circuit breaker has tripped, it could be due to a shorted electric motor.
Your AC has an outdoor fan motor and an indoor blower motor. If either of these runs hot for a prolonged period, the wiring insulation may break down leading to a short circuit.
A short circuit is where the electricity bypasses its normal path of flow. In other words, it’s a “shortcut” for the electricity, allowing for more electricity to flow (current increases). The wires
in the circuit will not be large enough to carry this extra current and can overheat, melt, and cause a fire.
Of course, your breaker trips before that.
Solution: The tech needs to find the short and replace the motor.
Need an air conditioner repair in Minnesota?
If you’ve tried the DIY options and need a professional’s help, contact On Time Service Pros for a professional AC repair. If we’re not on time, you won’t pay a dime for your repair!
Our air conditioner technicians serve Hastings, Minnesota and the surrounding areas, including Apple Valley, Burnsville, Cottage Grove, Eagan, Woodbury, Lakeville, Rosemount and Stillwater.