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Why is My Air Conditioner Tripping the Circuit Breaker?

We hear Phoenix-area homeowners ask, “Why does my air conditioner keep tripping the breaker at the control panel?”

First off, if this keeps happening then don’t turn the circuit back on.

The circuit breaker’s job is to keep your home and appliances safe by shutting off the flow of electricity when the current flow gets too high. If it keeps tripping, something needs to be fixed.

Reasons your AC trips the circuit breaker

If the air conditioner is the source of the tripping, it may be overheating. When an air conditioner overheats, it draws more amps (a measurement of electrical current) from the circuit.

That may be pushing the circuit past the number of amps it was meant to handle. So the breaker usually trips after the air conditioner has been running for a while.

So now we need to know what’s causing your air conditioner to overheat.

Common causes include:

  1. Dirty air filter: Dirt on the filter impedes airflow. This causes the AC to run longer to circulate enough cool air to achieve the temperature you want. This then causes the air conditioner to overheat. Change the filter and see if that helps.
  2. Dirty condenser coils: The condenser coils are in your air conditioner’s outside unit. Refrigerant runs through these coils. A fan blows over the coils to dissipate the heat that the refrigerant absorbed in your home. This is done so the refrigerant can flow back into the inside air conditioning unit and absorb more heat from your home’s air. But if the condenser coils are covered in dust, dirt and leaves, then the coils can’t properly dissipate the heat. So the air conditioner has to work harder and longer to cool your home and overheats as a result. In the Phoenix area, it’s easy for air conditioners to get covered in dust after haboobs (dust storms). Learn more about why you need to clean your condenser coils. You could wash the coils off, or you could have a contractor do it professionally as part of a pre-season air conditioner maintenance visit / AC tune-up. Spring is the perfect time for one of those!
  3. Not enough refrigerant: Without enough refrigerant, the air conditioner has to work longer to cool your home. The air conditioner overheats in the process. You’ll know if you don’t have enough refrigerant if the air your air conditioner puts out isn’t very cold. A contractor will have to add more refrigerant and seal the refrigerant leak.
  4. Condenser coil fan malfunction: This is the fan in the outside unit. If it stops working, it can’t cool down the condenser coils properly. Have a contractor repair the fan.

These certainly aren’t all the reasons that can cause the circuit to trip the breaker. But they are some common ones that you can see.

Next steps

Try changing the filter and cleaning the coils. If that doesn’t work: Call a professional to repair the air conditioner.

George Brazil has been keeping Phoenix-area homes safe, comfortable and energy efficient since 1955.

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