Keeping Your Home Cool during the Sweltering, Summer Months

AC System Tripping a Breaker? What You Can Do About the Problem

by Anthony Graves

If you have a central air-conditioning unit that you use all summer long, then you are probably used to some higher-than-normal electric bills during the summer months. However, the AC unit should not use so much power that it trips a breaker when it turns off. If you are experiencing this problem, then keep reading to learn how to troubleshoot the issue.

Change the Air Filter

If you have not changed the air filter recently, then it may be time to do so. A dirty filter can actually cause your AC unit to trip a breaker. Dirty air filters will stop air from moving through your vents and cooling your home properly. If the temperature in your home remains warm even after the AC unit turns on, then the cooling system will continue to cycle on and off until your thermostat reads the correct temperature. This constant cycling will cause the cooling unit to use more and more electricity, and the components within the system like the compressor pump, blower, and the exhaust fan may heat up. Excess electrical usage and heat will cause the breaker to trip.

A dirty filter can cause this sort of issue, and so can the installation of a tightly woven filter like a HEPA variety. Make sure to purchase a standard air-conditioning filter. If you want to cut down on allergies and dust in your home, then buy a filter with a MERV rating of 11. These filters will remove dust and allergens without compromising the air flow of the unit. Electrostatic filters can also help with the collection of dust and debris. Keep in mind that a filter that removes more allergens will need to be changed more often, or you may experience a tripped breaker or problem with low air flow in the future. The filter will likely need to be changed every three months. However, inspect the filter every month to see if it is getting dirty. A filter that appears gray or is coated with a layer of debris needs to be changed or cleaned.

Clean the Outdoor Unit

A dirty outdoor air-conditioning unit can also cause an overheating issue and a tripped breaker. The fan motor and the compressor pump can create a great deal of heat as they work to cool your home. The coolant that runs from your house to the unit will also contain heat that must be dispelled out of the metal compressor fins that line the sides of the unit. The fins can hold some dirt and debris between them and keep heat trapped inside the air conditioner. The unit can then overheat fairly quickly, and the breaker will trip. 

Make sure that the fins on the outside of the outdoor condenser unit are as clean as possible. It is wise to inspect the fins often and to clean then thoroughly at the beginning and in the middle of the cooling season. You should clean fins from the inside out, or you will push all the dirt and debris inside the air conditioner. You will need to remove the top cover and fan from the AC unit. Both of these parts can be unscrewed and lifted out of the system. Locate the metal fins inside the AC unit and take your house and direct a stream of water through them to wash debris out. Take a clean cloth and wipe down the fins afterward.

Look for Damaged Wires

An electrical short in the AC system will almost certainly cause the unit to trip its breaker repeatedly. An electrical short is when an electrical current flows outside of its path, like an encased wire. When electrical current can flow outside of its intended space, the current will jump in intensity because there is nothing stopping the current from discharging. Your electrical system will recognize the unusually high electrical flow, and the breaker is tripped to reduce fire risks.

Electrical currents are kept contained and controlled by the sheathing that lines the exterior of electrical cords. However, the sheathing can melt under high levels of heat. If you have been working your air conditioner quite hard during the warmest of days, then damaged wire sheathing may be responsible for the tripping problem. You can investigate the wires inside your AC condenser unit to see if the sheathing has worn away. Wires inside the main unit and the control panel should be checked. Make sure to turn off the AC system before you investigate wiring. Also, contact an HVAC professional such as A Absolute Plumbing & Heating right away if you notice a wiring issue. Do not use your cooling system; the exposed wiring can cause a fire.