Understanding Why Your AC Breaker Keeps Tripping

Phill Crawley

Smarter Air & Electrical

i 3 Contents

AC Breaker

Understanding Why Your Ac Breaker Keeps Tripping

If you’re having issues with your air conditioner circuit breaker and the breaker keep tripping, this is likely when you need it most. There are a range of reasons why this could be happening, so let’s run through them so you can get back to relaxing in a cool home.

 

1. Dirty or blocked AC filters

A dirty or blocked filter can obstruct airflow and force your air conditioner to draw more current to cool your home. This surge in power use can push the system beyond its normal operating limits and trip the air conditioner circuit breaker. It’s a protective measure, but it also signals that your system is operating under stress-inducing conditions.

Additionally, the strain placed on the blower motor due to a clogged filter can lead to overheating. In extreme cases, it may not just trip the breaker but also pose a fire hazard or cause the motor to burn out prematurely.

We recommend you inspect and clean your AC filters every three months, while an annual service will clean and identify when you need to replace them.

 

2. Outdoor fans not operating

The outdoor unit of your air conditioning system houses the fans that dispense the heat extracted from your home. When these fans fail to operate correctly, it can lead to an increased draw of electrical current.

If these fans aren’t working properly, the compressor works overtime to cool the refrigerant. This extra work increases the electrical load, potentially causing the air conditioner breaker to trip on start-up.

To prevent this, clear away debris, check for signs of damage and ensure the fan components are in good working order. If an outdoor fan isn’t operating, it’s advisable to call in a professional to inspect the unit.

 

3. Loose electrical connections

Loose electrical connections, known as ‘hot joints’ within your air conditioning unit, can often cause your AC breaker to trip. The terminals inside the unit form critical junction points for the flow of electricity. If these connections become loose, the system can demand more electrical current to perform the same work, such as running the compressor or the fans, leading to an AC circuit breaker that keeps tripping. The heat generated from these poor connections can degrade the electrical conductors over time, making the issue worse and potentially leading to a dangerous situation, including the risk of electrical fires.

A loose connection be caused by natural vibration of the unit over time, wear and tear or even an initial installation that wasn’t up to standard. These loose connections often go undetected without a professional inspection because they may not immediately disrupt the air conditioner.

 

4. Vermin and other pests

Pests and small vermin are notorious for causing unexpected havoc in air conditioning units. These tiny intruders can crawl into the electrical components of your AC system and cause short circuits, which often results in the AC breaker tripping.

When a pest comes into contact with the electrical circuitry, they can inadvertently bridge connections, causing a sudden pathway for electricity. This can lead to a surge of current, tripping the AC circuit breaker as a safety response to prevent overheating and potential fire hazards.

Make sure to seal off entry points and keep the area around the outdoor unit clean to discourage vermin from taking up residence.

 

5. Compressor failures

The compressor is like the heart of an air conditioning system, and just like a heart, if it fails, the entire system comes to a halt. The compressor works under high pressure and is one of the most critical and power-intensive components. When it malfunctions, it can draw an abnormal amount of electricity and trip the breaker as a protective response.

To reduce the risk of compressor issues, regular maintenance is important. A professional technician can detect early signs of wear and tear and address them before they lead to a breakdown. They can also ensure the system is properly charged with refrigerant, as both overcharging and undercharging can lead to compressor failure. 

 

6. Electrical surges

Electrical surges and power spikes are transient events that can cause significant damage to the delicate electronics within your air conditioning system. These spikes in voltage can be the result of lightning strikes, power outages or malfunctions in the power grid and are often beyond our control. When they occur, they can send an overwhelming amount of energy into your AC unit, leading the AC circuit breaker to trip as it tries to protect the system from damage.

While we can’t prevent power spikes from occurring, you can have a surge protector installed alongside the AC unit. These devices can absorb or redirect the excess electricity, shielding the AC system from the brunt of the surge.

Moreover, maintaining a well-serviced unit can help reduce the risk of damage from electrical surges. A system that is already compromised by loose connections or worn insulation is more susceptible to the effects of a power spike.

 

7. Airflow restrictions

Airflow is the lifeblood of an air conditioning system, particularly for the outdoor unit, which expels the heat drawn from your home’s interior. When airflow to this unit is restricted, it can’t operate efficiently. This not only reduces the system’s cooling capacity but also increases the risk of overheating, which can trigger the AC breaker to keep tripping.

Various factors can cause airflow restrictions, such as leaves, debris or even garden equipment placed too close to the unit. Sometimes, the unit itself can be installed in a location that doesn’t allow for adequate air circulation. Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: the system has to work harder to achieve the desired cooling effect. 

Regular checks around the outdoor unit can prevent these issues. Ensuring there’s at least a few feet of clear space on all sides of the unit will allow for proper air circulation. 

 

8. Faulty circuit breaker

When your air conditioner’s circuit breaker trips, it’s easy to assume the AC unit itself is at fault. However, there are instances where your home’s circuit breaker itself is the culprit. Circuit breakers are designed to protect your home’s electrical system by interrupting the flow of electricity if an overload or short circuit is detected. But like any other component, breakers can wear out or become faulty over time, leading to unwarranted tripping.

Symptoms of a faulty breaker include regular tripping, feeling hot to the touch, showing visible signs of damage like burning or corrosion or your appliances not working properly. 

An experienced electrician can test the breaker’s functionality. Continuing to use a defective breaker not only poses a risk of unnecessary AC shutdowns but can also be a significant safety hazard, increasing the risk of electrical fires.

 

9. Expired electrical components

In the intricate electronics of an air conditioning system, the failure of a single component can cause significant issues. The capacitor is one of these, storing and releasing electrical energy to help the AC’s motors start and maintain a steady operation.

Over time, capacitors can degrade and their ability to hold a charge diminishes.  When a capacitor gives out, it can cause the AC circuit breaker to keep tripping, as the system tries to draw a surge of power to compensate for the failed start-up.

Replacing a capacitor is a routine repair that can restore function to your air conditioning system and prevent the air conditioner breaker from repeatedly tripping. It’s a reminder of how even the smallest parts can have a significant impact on the overall health and performance of your AC unit and is all the more reason to book in your annual service today.

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