Why the breaker for your air conditioner might keep tripping

Typically, if a breaker is tripping, there’s a variety of potential reasons. But ultimately it means that the circuit is drawing more amps than it is designed to handle. Amps (or Amperes) measure electrical current. A breaker box trips when it’s overloaded.

If your breaker trips once, it may not be anything to worry about. If it happens repeatedly, though, here are some common issues we see, and how to handle them.

Dirty coil in the outside unit

If anything in the central HVAC system (the inside unit, outside unit, and air duct system) is dirty and clogged, the motors have to work much harder to maintain air flow. When those motors have to work harder, they draw more amps, or electrical current.

A dirty coil can also greatly shorten the life of your motors and compressor. Keep it clean with a hose if it starts getting dirty.

Clogged air filters

This is a common culprit for HVAC issues. It’s one of the easiest things to maintain, but sadly, we still see dirty air filters on a high majority of our repair calls.

Just like a dirty coil makes the motors work harder, clogged air filters do too. And when your motors work too hard, they draw enough amps to trip your breaker. If your filters are dirty, it’s time to replace them!

Short in the connection for a motor

This is less likely than a dirty coil or clogged filters, but still a possibility. After hours of running daily over extended periods of time, the insulation on the wires can break down, leading to an electrical short. An electrician will be able to diagnose and fix this problem.

Refrigerant leaks or incorrect refrigerant charge

This is a common cause of HVAC issues. A leak in the refrigerant can cause portions of your system to work harder and draw more electrical current, tripping your breaker.

If the charge and pressure is off, we can easily adjust this for you. That could be caused by too much or too little refrigerant. Leaks can often be fixed, too. This needs to be done by a professional, though, because the correct type of refrigerant isn’t often available to homeowners.

Compressor is grounded

This is a worst-case scenario, and it’s usually not the cause of a tripped breaker. If the compressor’s electrical wiring causes a electrical short, the compressor will often be irreparably damaged.

You can either replace the compressor itself or the entire unit at this point. Both are very pricey—think of it like replacing the engine on your vehicle. Some people would change the engine, but most simply start looking for a new car.

Electrician or HVAC technician?

When your air conditioner’s breaker keeps tripping, most people wonder if they need an electrician or an HVAC technician. It’s hard to tell, because unless you can easily determine the cause of the breaker tripping, it seems like it could go either way.

But it’s best to default to an HVAC technician in any of these situations. Even though the breaker panel is tripping, the underlying cause is most likely coming from your air conditioning unit.

We happen to have both trades. We can’t speak for everyone in our industry, but if we initially send out an HVAC technician for what turns out to be an electrical issue, you won’t pay two service fees. You also won’t have to deal with two different companies. We will detect the problem and get it fixed.

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