Updated January 18, 2024
Is your air conditioner suddenly turning off? The cause is most likely a tripped circuit breaker. When your AC trips the circuit breaker after it runs for a few minutes, the breaker will cut the power to the system.
Check the circuit breaker to see if it’s tripped. The switch will either be in the neutral middle position or flipped to “OFF”. If it’s tripped, you can try resetting the breaker (we’ll explain below) and see if it operates normally again.
Important: If the breaker trips again after a reset attempt, do NOT attempt resetting it again. You could damage your AC.
- A dirty air filter or condenser coils
- Broken fan motors
- Low refrigerant levels
- A malfunctioning compressor
- An overloaded circuit breaker
This article will review how to reset your circuit breaker to restore power. Then we’ll dive into each potential problem and how to troubleshoot if the reset attempt doesn’t work.
Skip the Hassle of Troubleshooting
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Reset Your Circuit Breaker
First, let’s try resetting your circuit breaker before assessing what could be causing the frequent tripping. You can do so by:
- Letting the AC cool down. According to the Department of Energy, five minutes is the recommended time for a system to rest before you reset any breakers.
- Turning OFF your thermostat
- Locating your electrical panel. It’s most likely in a closet, garage, or basement. Double-check that there isn’t any water on the ground before you reset the breaker. If there is, do NOT stand in the water while completing the following steps.
- Looking for the AC’s switch. Most electrical panels have labeled switches. If not, look for the switch that is neutral or OFF. Some panels will also flag a tripped breaker with a color indicator.
- Flipping the switch OFF. If it’s already off, move to the next step.
- Flipping the switch ON. You should feel a satisfying click into place.
Waiting 30 seconds
- Turning ON your thermostat. Check that your test worked.
Did your AC immediately trip again? Do NOT reset the breaker again; call a technician to correct the problem. You risk electrical surges damaging your AC or causing a fire with too many resets.
Dirty Air Filter or Condenser Coils
If your AC uses too much energy by pulling in more amps (a unit of electrical current) than usual, the circuit breaker will cut off the surge. Why? A circuit breaker will shut off the flow of electricity if a current’s amps exceed the breaker’s amp rating. For example, a 20-amp electrical current will trip a 15-amp rated circuit breaker.
How does this happen?
A dirty air filter or condenser coils can increase the energy consumption of your AC. The system needs indoor air flowing to absorb enough heat to dump outside, meeting your set thermostat temperature.
When an air filter gets clogged with debris and dirt, it blocks warm airflow from entering the system. Then your AC has to work harder and use more electricity to cool your home. The circuit breaker then trips to protect the system.
Meanwhile, the AC’s outdoor unit (called the condenser) dumps out the heat the indoor unit absorbs, keeping your home cool. A condenser blocked by bushes or dirt can no longer effectively complete the heat transfer, making your AC use more energy to cool your home. Then, the circuit breaker trips.
If you suspect your breaker keeps tripping because of these reasons, change out your air filter at least every quarter and book an appointment with an AC technician for a condenser cleaning. You can also:
- Check that no plants or objects are within 3’ of the outdoor unit
- Gently clear out any leaves or sticks lodged in the condenser coils
Broken Fan Motors
- The blower motor in the indoor unit
- The condensing fan motor in the outdoor unit
Normal wear-and-tear can cause these motors to develop an electrical short, where the electrical current diverts from its normal path. Then, the electricity overloads the motor’s wiring. Your AC circuit breaker trips to protect other components from becoming fried.
You can tell if you have a fan motor issue if you stand next to the indoor unit or outdoor unit and can’t hear the fans rumbling. Contact an HVAC technician for help, as electrical work can be dangerous and expensive to fix.
Low Refrigerant Levels
Refrigerant is a chemical agent in your AC that helps the indoor unit absorb heat from your air. When it starts leaking, your AC will struggle to cool your home effectively, forcing it to use more power to compensate. The circuit breaker then trips due to overload.
You’ll know if you have low refrigerant levels, which is always due to a leak because it works in a closed loop system if you notice signs like:
- Ice buildup on the outdoor unit or refrigerant lines
- Hissing or bubbling noises coming from the indoor unit
- Higher-than-normal indoor temperatures and energy bills
Since refrigerant is a harmful substance to handle without training, contact a certified technician to fix the leak and recharge your refrigerant.
The compressor is the “heart” of your AC as it circulates the refrigerant through the system. A major problem with a malfunctioning compressor is it can cause an electrical short.
Typically, electricity flows in a loop called a “circuit.” So, an electrical short means that a malfunction has interrupted the loop. Too much electricity is flowing through the circuit.
Most malfunctions are because of an electrical winding inside of the compressor breaking, hitting the side of the compressor, and producing an electrical short. This short causes the compressor to burn out and the circuit breaker to trip to prevent the overload from causing a fire.
A burned-out compressor most likely needs to be replaced. Since compressors are vital for the AC’s function, replacing them tends to cost the same as an entire system replacement. Contact an HVAC technician to see if replacing the compressor or your AC would be more cost-effective for your cooling needs and budget.
Broken Circuit Breaker
A continually tripping circuit breaker could also be due to an issue with the breaker itself—not your AC system.
- A hot breaker when touched
- A burning smell when you come near the breaker
- Loosely connecting wires
- Burn marks on the breaker
- Worn-out parts due to age
Notice any of the above indicators? You’re dealing with a faulty breaker that needs professional replacement. An AC technician can make sure your system is working properly, and an electrician can further assist with the panel.
Need a 5-Star Air Conditioner or Electrical Repair? Contact Us!
Golden Rule’s HVAC and electrical professionals can stop your circuit breaker from tripping. We’ve been serving the Des Moines Metro area for over two decades, and our technicians are ready to help you get your AC back up and running today. Not only do we provide prompt AC repairs and electrical panel services, but we also back up our work with a 100% satisfaction guarantee.
Call us today at (515) 517-6557 or contact us by filling out the form below to see why we enjoy thousands of 5-star reviews!
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