Learn Why Your Air Conditioner Trips Your Home's Circuit Breaker

Imagine your central air conditioning system suddenly stops working. The first place you're likely to check is your home's circuit breaker. You find the breaker switch for the A/C unit, reset it and your A/C comes back to life. . . at least until it suddenly stops working again sometime later. If this happens on a constant basis, then there may be a problem with your A/C system that's tripping the circuit breaker.

Understanding How Circuit Breakers Work

Circuit breakers are an electrical failsafe designed to prevent your home's electrical circuits from being damaged by current overload or short-circuiting. Whenever electrical current jumps above a safe threshold, the circuit breaker essentially disconnects the problem circuit, shutting off power to the offending circuit and the devices that happen to rely on that circuit.

Knowing Common A/C Issues That Could Trip the Circuit Breaker

Circuit breakers are usually triggered only when an appliance or device is drawing more current than it was designed to. In the case of the typical A/C system, this only happens when the unit is working harder than usual due to a blockage or impediment that's preventing normal operation. These often include the following:

  • A blocked or clogged air filter – If the air filter isn't replaced regularly, it'll eventually accumulate enough dust and debris to completely block incoming air flow through the return air vent. As a result, the A/C unit's blower fan has to run harder to draw in shrinking amounts of air flow through an increasingly blocked filter. The A/C unit draws an ever-increasing amount of current to operate normally until the circuit breaker finally overloads and trips.
  • Dirty evaporator and/or condenser coils – The evaporator and condenser coils allow the A/C unit to collect indoor heat and transfer it outdoors. As dirt, grime and mildew builds up on the coils, it becomes harder for the coils to transfer heat. This causes other parts of the A/C system, including the compressor, to draw more current in an effort to maintain its cooling performance. Eventually, the electrical draw causes the circuit breaker to trip.
  • Refrigerant leak – As the A/C system slowly loses refrigerant, the compressor has to work harder to keep the remaining refrigerant properly pressurized. This can cause higher-than-normal electrical draws that eventually trip the circuit breaker.
  • Defective components – A bad switch, relay, capacitor or motor can also cause the circuit breaker to trip regularly.

Solving the Problem

After finding out what could potentially cause your A/C system to trip its circuit breaker, you can do the following to help fix the problem and keep it from happening again in the future:

  • Swap your dirty air filter for a clean filter. Ideally, this should be done at least every three months, although many experts recommend changing your air filter on a monthly basis for the best A/C system performance.
  • Inspect the A/C system's wiring within the indoor cabinet (where the evaporator coil is located) to make sure there aren't any burnt wires or damaged relays or switches.
  • With the A/C system shut off at the circuit breaker, use a garden hose to rinse off the condenser coil. Make sure the coil is free of dirt and debris and allow it to dry for an hour or two before turning the system back on.
  • Likewise, clean the evaporator coil, this time using a soft-bristle brush and mild detergent to remove dirt, grime and mildew growth. You can also use a foaming no-rinse spray to clean the evaporator coil without risking damage to the delicate coil fins.

If you've done all of the above and you're still having problems, then you may want to have a trained HVAC technician, such as those at sites like http://www.belairplumbing.com, take an in-depth look at your A/C unit. With the right tools, your HVAC technician may be able to pinpoint the cause of the problem, such as a burned-out compressor or blower fan, leaky refrigerant valves or a bad capacitor. These components should be replaced by your HVAC technician, as severe shock and/or damage could occur if they're removed or installed improperly.