Jun 26

Why Your Outside AC Unit Keeps Tripping The Breaker

electrician repairing circuit breaker box due to air conditioner tripping circuit breaker

Power-related issues can be pretty bothersome because they can halt the operation of an air conditioner completely. During sweltering hot weather, people crave the comfort of a cool home. It can be incredibly frustrating if, for instance, the outdoor AC unit keeps tripping the breaker. This can lead to discomfort and annoyance, particularly when homeowners are unaware of the underlying problem. This article aims to clarify this matter, and HVAC technicians are ready to provide prompt assistance when needed.

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Outside Air Conditioning Unit Keeps Tripping The Circuit Breaker

The compressor in the outdoor AC unit plays a vital role in the cooling system. It facilitates the movement of refrigerant, which absorbs indoor heat and expels it outside. With each cycle, the home gradually becomes cooler until it achieves the desired temperature set on the thermostat, causing the AC to shut off automatically. The compressor demands a significant amount of energy to perform its task effectively. However, if the circuit breakers trip, they will be deprived of power, rendering them unable to operate. Considering its crucial role, this situation demands the full attention of homeowners.

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Why Do Circuit Breakers Trip?

Numerous factors can cause a circuit breaker to trip. Remember that this protective mechanism is designed to activate in potentially hazardous situations. Circuit breakers trip to safeguard the system against damage caused by short circuits and sudden increases in electrical current. By interrupting the current flow, they mitigate the fire risk and ensure the safety of connected equipment. Before their invention, electrical systems relied on fuses that needed to be replaced after a single use. Unlike fuses, circuit breakers are more durable. They can be reset to restore normal operations. However, if tripping occurs frequently, a mere reset may not be sufficient, and further investigation is necessary to identify the underlying issue.

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Clogged or Dirty Air Filter

image of a dirty air filter for home hvac system

What is the condition of the AC system just before the circuit breaker trips? If the issue reoccurs, check the temperature of the unit. Overheating can be a sign of dirty air filters. When the filters become clogged, they hinder airflow through the system. As a result, fresh air cannot effectively cool down the system, leading to heat buildup until it becomes unsafe for the AC to continue operating.

Dirty filters not only contribute to overheating but also diminish the efficiency and performance of the system. You may observe a difference in how well it cools the space. Clean reusable filters every few months, although the exact frequency depends on the usage and the level of outdoor pollution. Regular maintenance of the filters helps ensure the optimal functioning of the air conditioning system.

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Dirty Condenser Coils

In addition to the filters, the condenser coils can accumulate dirt from airborne dust and pollutants. This layer of dirt can become thick enough to act as insulation, preventing the coils from effectively expelling heat outdoors. In severe cases, dirty coils can lead to an electrical short that causes the air conditioning system to overheat. The system may still function in less extreme situations, but it will require more energy than usual to cool down the house efficiently.

To avoid these issues, periodically check and clean the coils before problems arise. Cleaning the coils is typically included as part of annual air conditioner tune-ups provided by HVAC companies. Call them and schedule a visit to ensure the evaporator coils and other components of the system are properly maintained.

Related Article: Why Is My Air Conditioner Running In Short Bursts?

Broken Coil Fan

air conditioner condenser fan close up

The cooling units consist of coil fans that are important in the cooling process. Typically, the motors for these fans are located outdoors. When the blades spin, they generate wind that helps extract heat from the coils. However, if the fan motors start to fail, the fans won’t be able to operate as intended. This can occur due to regular wear and tear over time. If the fan motor is causing the breaker to trip, it may be necessary to replace it. It is very challenging to pinpoint the exact cause without a comprehensive inspection by a licensed HVAC technician.

To address this issue, seek the assistance of a reliable professional who can come to your location, assess the problem thoroughly, and provide an appropriate solution. A licensed HVAC technician will have the expertise to diagnose the fan motor issue and offer the best solution to resolve it.

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Hard-Starting AC Compressor

We have previously explored the importance of the compressor and the efforts engineers make to ensure its longevity and reliable operation. However, there are instances when the compressor may exhibit issues such as hard starting. This means the compressor faces difficulty initiating its operation and requires additional energy to get started. This phenomenon could lead to breaker tripping.

To identify this problem, pay attention to the duration it takes for the AC unit to switch on. In most cases, it should start within a second. However, if you notice sputtering or a longer delay, it indicates a problem with the compressor. Addressing this issue requires advanced solutions, so do not take any chances. Seek professional assistance promptly to diagnose and resolve the problem.

Related Article: 5 Most Common Thermostat Problems Impacting Your Comfort

Loose Wiring and Old Air Conditioning Parts

image of air conditioner electrical wires

In addition to the compressor, various air conditioning system components can deteriorate over time. One example is the system wiring. Several cables are running throughout the house, carrying power and signals. Over time, some of these cables may loosen, leading to faulty connections. In some cases, bare wires might make unintended contact with each other or sensitive components like the inner wall of the compressor, resulting in the circuit breaker tripping.

Addressing this issue is complex and should not be attempted by homeowners themselves. Instead, it is recommended to contact professionals who can conduct a thorough examination and carry out competent re-wiring if necessary. During the inspection, they may also identify other components of the system that require replacement or repair, ensuring the overall functionality and safety of the air conditioning system.

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Bad AC Capacitor

Capacitors play a vital role in initiating the compressor’s operation. When the compressor struggles to start, the capacitor may attempt to draw a high current level during activation. If this current exceeds a specific threshold, it can cause the breaker to trip. Over time, capacitors can also deteriorate and lose their effectiveness. When a capacitor wears out, its performance is compromised.

In such cases, have technicians promptly replace the faulty capacitor. The capacitor is typically located inside the outdoor AC unit; technicians will remove the metal cover to access it. They will then install a compatible replacement capacitor to ensure the smooth functioning of the compressor and prevent any further issues with the breaker.

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Old Air Conditioner Compressor

Compressors typically operate at their peak performance in newly installed air conditioning units. They can last over a decade or even longer with proper maintenance and ideal conditions. However, as compressors age, their efficiency gradually declines. There comes a point where they may become too weak to initiate the cooling cycle effectively. These attempts to start the compressor may result in tripped breakers due to excessive power consumption.

Replacing a compressor is a significant investment because it is one of the most expensive components of an air conditioner. It requires careful consideration. Consult a technician to confirm whether the compressor is the problem’s root cause. They can also explore alternative solutions and assess if any other issues contribute to the malfunction before deciding. A professional evaluation will provide valuable insights to help determine the best course of action.

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Is it Possible that the Circuit Breaker Has Gone Bad?

Occasionally, the root of the issue may not be within the air conditioning unit itself. Consider the possibility that the breaker, rather than the AC unit, is the problem if it keeps tripping. While this situation is uncommon, it should be considered during troubleshooting. Breakers consist of robust switches. However, those repeatedly tripping due to external factors may gradually weaken. They become more prone to tripping, even with minor triggers. The best solution is to install new breakers that can reliably perform their intended function. Replacing faulty breakers can ensure a more dependable and efficient electrical system.

Related Article: How To Keep Your House Cool Naturally


When a breaker trips, it is a symptom of various potential problems. It can be very challenging to pinpoint the underlying cause through basic observations alone. Seek the expertise of AC technicians who can offer advanced troubleshooting and accurate diagnosis. They possess the knowledge and experience to pinpoint the specific issue, explain the root cause, and provide appropriate solutions to prevent its recurrence. With their assistance, you can efficiently isolate the defective component and ensure uninterrupted cooling for your comfort and peace of mind.

Related Article: Top 6 Benefits Of Getting An Annual Air Conditioner Tune-Up

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Skylands Energy Service offers top-notch heating and cooling services in Central New Jersey. Our team comprises highly trained and certified HVAC technicians who deliver exceptional HVAC tune-ups, repairs, installations, and replacements. Our team’s extensive knowledge and experience guarantee that your HVAC system will receive the proper care it deserves.

At Skylands Energy Service, we strive to offer the most competitive prices for heating and cooling services in the area. Our maintenance services are designed to enhance comfort, improve energy efficiency, and reduce home heating and cooling costs. Whether you require HVAC repairs or a complete system replacement, our experts will provide personalized recommendations that suit your specific needs and budget. We stand behind our HVAC work with a guarantee to ensure your utmost satisfaction.

To schedule a service appointment, give Skylands Energy Service a call today. We also offer free, in-home estimates to assess your HVAC requirements accurately. 

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