Archive for July 2016

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.

Three reasons your AC may not turn on

One of the most common questions we get is, “Why won’t my AC turn on?” Typically this means the outside unit isn’t coming on. But sometimes, a homeowner reports to us that the thermostat itself appears to have gone blank.

Whatever it looks like, an AC unit that won’t turn on might indicate a larger issue. Here are some reasons that could be happening, and what you can do about it.

Thermostat settings

Always start with the simplest solution first! If your thermostat is working, but the outside AC unit won’t turn on, check to see if it’s set to ‘”cool” or “auto.” You might see that the thermostat is set to “off.” This is one of the first things a technician will investigate—you may as well check it yourself before investing time, energy and money into a repair call.

Another thing to check is the temperature your thermostat is set at. Your set temperature should only be 3-5 degrees below the current temperature if you want your system to cool your home.

Electrical circuit issues

First, check to see if the breaker for the outside unit has tripped. If it has, you can reset it. Another place to check is the electrical disconnect for your outside unit, which will usually look like a small metal box mounted near the outside unit.

This box is an external means of disconnecting the power, and usually has a small fuse inside. If the fuse is blown, you can replace it with an identical fuse.

If replacing a fuse or returning the breaker to the “on” position fixes the problem, but only temporarily, then you may have other underlying electrical issues. That’s a good sign you should call a professional.

Is your outside unit or coil frozen up?

Many of the middle and all top tier HVAC systems have some built in safety features, which are designed to ‘shut down the system’ to prevent further damage until the problem(s) can be corrected. If your unit is freezing up, it’s probably a symptom of a larger issue. Here are some of the most common.

Your air conditioner is a little like your car—it’ll let you know if there’s an issue. If your check engine light is on, that could mean a few different things, but it does mean you should get it checked out.

Most air conditioning units will shut themselves off for a reason—if there’s an issue with the unit. Not all of them are difficult or expensive to correct, but it could be catastrophic if a long-term issue is left unaddressed.

Are your plugged-in electronics draining energy?

It’s a safe assumption that if you have an electric bill, you’d like to have lower monthly payments. There are a lot of things that contribute to a household’s electric bill. What makes sense for reducing one household’s bill wouldn’t work as well for another.

Older appliance issues

We ran into this with a client recently. He had just moved and began receiving what he felt were outrageous electric bills. He was concerned there must be some problem with the house’s electrical systems because he had never seen his electric bills that high.

As we continued the discussion, he pointed out he had moved from a smaller and newer home with natural gas to a larger and much older home in Oklahoma City with an all-electric system.

We were able to determine that there were no real issues with the home. Because of the age of the appliances, though, they were using a lot of energy. And since the home was all-electric, the water heater and heater were using way more power than their gas heated counterparts.

In the end, there were no electrical issues in this man’s home—just a potential to modernize some appliances to use less energy. Most newer appliances use much less energy than the older versions.

Do you need to unplug?

We often come across the idea that people can save on their electric bills by unplugging their electronics. That may be helpful if your appliances are older and less efficient, but many electronics use a lot less energy than you’d expect.

Here’s a list of some common household electronic items, along with how much energy they use while plugged in. These numbers are based on post-2005 appliances and national average usage.

As a reminder, watts essentially measures the amount of energy used. Your power company bills you by what is called the kilowatt-hour, which is a measure equivalent to 1,000 watts of consumption for one hour. Since these rates are based on national averages, they will vary slightly for our Edmond Electric and OG&E customers, but it just goes to show that you aren’t probably losing very much money if you leave your computer plugged in.

Average cost per year

  • Electric furnace: 7200 kwh, $684.72/year
  • Central air conditioning: 2500 kwh, $237.75/year
  • Curling iron: 1300 kwh, $123.63/year
  • Well pump (1 horsepower): 1000 kwh, $95.10/year
  • Fridge/freezer (large): 750 kwh, $71.33/year
  • Ceiling/box fan: 750 kwh, $71.33/year
  • Computer w/monitor: 450 kwh, $42.80/year
  • Microwave: 350 kwh, $33.29/year
  • Coffee maker: 140 kwh, $13.31/year

The amount each appliance uses will vary from one household to another, but overall, many of these things use minimal energy when they aren’t used, even if they’re still plugged in. Again, these are modern appliances. Older electronics and appliances are much less efficient, and use a lot more energy.

If your electric bill is higher than you’d like, you may want to consider replacing older appliances instead of unplugging them.

Does your light switch make a crackling sound?

Have you ever switched a light on and heard a crackling sound coming from the switch? We have had hundreds of service requests over the years for variations of this problem. It’s understandably something that concerns homeowners—electrical safety should be taken seriously.

But before deciding you have a fire hazard and need an electrician, let’s cover some basics and explain what may be happening.

A light switch works by connecting two conductors to turn the switch on, then disconnects the conductors when you flip it off. Over time, these conductors can get worn or dirty, and may sometimes make a poor connection. In that case, you might hear a slight crackling sound.

This in itself isn’t necessarily dangerous, but it’s worth you investigating. Paying attention to the type of switch and the temperature of the switch plate can help you decide if it’s time to call a professional. There are two main types of light switches— toggle switches and dimmers, and they work differently.

Toggle switch

A little crackling sound on occasion isn’t usually an issue with toggle switches. Typically, unless the switch plate is getting warm to the touch, there’s probably little to worry about.

But if that crackling sound is sustained when the switch is turned on, or the switch plate is hot to the touch, we recommend having it looked at by a professional. It’s a good idea to leave the switch off until an electrician is able to check it out.

Dimmer Switches

Dimmer switches may get warm to the touch, but that’s normal for many types of dimmers, and is often not a problem. But if the dimmer is more than slightly warm—especially if it’s hot to the touch—that’s when you should turn the switch off and call a professional.

If your toggle or dimmer switch keeps crackling when you turn it on, should you replace it? Possibly. Switches aren’t designed to last forever, and they are relatively easy and inexpensive to replace. If you’re handy, there are plenty of blogs and videos on how to do this.

As always with electrical issues, though, if you’d feel more comfortable having a professional take care of it, then it’s a good idea to call one. We’d be happy to help.