What do you do when the Air Conditioner Breaker Trips and it won’t reset? What to do if the breaker keeps tripping? Try to reset it. If that doesn’t work? What do you do when it trips again? I’ve been on several service calls where the problem was a tripped breaker. Of course, this causes the air conditioner not to function correctly. Sometimes the problem with the air conditioner breaker trips is simple. However, other times, they are complex and result in significant repair.

Here we’ll describe the two separate line voltage circuits for your split system air conditioner. Additionally, we will also describe the possible causes that will make your air conditioner trip the breaker. If you have a package unit, then you will have a single circuit for your air conditioner. Lastly, a package unit is an air conditioner or heat pump in one package (all in one air conditioner).

Working on any appliance, including high voltage appliances, is dangerous and should only be done by trained professionals. HVAC Systems use high voltage, and all associated components, including the breaker panel, use high voltage. Always be safe and call a professional.

Air Conditioner Breaker Trips - The Circuits

air conditioner breaker tripsAir Conditioner breaker trips can be very frustrating. With a split system air conditioner, you will have two separate breakers. One will be for the air handler, and the other will be for the condensing unit. Depending on which breaker trips will depend on the problem. However, it is infrequent for both to trip at the same time. That is unless you have a lightning storm, or there is a power problem. Problems such as a brownout or malfunctioning transformer. Furthermore, that is a problem that your power company will have to resolve and not you or an HVAC contractor.

The photo shows an open breaker panel. We do not recommend that you open the electrical panel unless you have had specific training. You should have electrical training in electrical safety and an understanding of the panel and wiring. The problem may be in the panel by way of a bad or loose breaker. Additionally, an HVAC technician can perform troubleshooting and quickly find the problem with the air conditioner breaker trips.

The breaker panel should be labeled for the appropriate appliance, but sometimes it is not labeled correctly. It is actually in the electrical code that the panels have labels for the location/circuit/appliance for safety reasons. However, they often not labeled or mislabeled. If your panel is not labeled correctly or mislabeled, you may want to call an electrician. They can perform this task for safety reasons. They should be able to provide you with a circuit map after work is complete. What things will trip the circuit breaker which will require an HVAC repair?

Never reset the breaker more than a few times. When a breaker trips continuously, it means you have a serious problem that needs a competent professional to look into the problem.

Troubleshooting Guide | Air Conditioner Breaker Trips

Some of these cases described will require a professional to troubleshoot the problem. Other cases described can easily be done by a homeowner. Additionally, when in doubt or where safety is concerned, call a professional.

  1. Poor Maintenance
  2. Bad Breaker or Power Problem
  3. Dead Short/Bad Motor
  4. Weak or Blown Motor Capacitors

bad capacitors AC breaker trips

A bad dual-run capacitor. The top of the capacitor is all swelled up rather than being flat.

Poor Maintenance | Breaker Trips After 5 Minutes

1 Poor maintenance can cause air conditioner breaker trips. Dirty condenser coils will cause the air conditioner to draw more power. With this increased power use, the heat increases. That will cause the air conditioner breaker to trip if the problem is not repaired. Dirty clogged filters can also cause the breaker to trip. Make sure you do proper maintenance on your air conditioner. Change those dirty air filters and keep your air conditioning and heating system healthy. Finally, this will save you money on power usage and keep your unit reliable.

Bad Breaker/Power Problem | Air Conditioner Breaker Trips

2 Bad breaker or power problem as described above.

Dead Short/Bad Motor - AC Breaker Trips Immediately Won’t Reset

3 A dead short where two wires are touching that should not be touching. That can also have a reference as a grounded compressor. One of the windings is touching the outer compressor shell. It could also be a wire touching some metal and going to the ground. Motors can have a short to ground, and that includes the compressor. The compressor is powered by an electric motor and it can go bad or fail for various reasons. That is an electrical short inside the closed shell of the compressor. Furthermore, this is a serious problem that will require HVAC repair from an HVAC contractor.

Weak or Blown Motor Capacitors - Can a Bad Capacitor Trip a Breaker?

4 Weak or blown capacitors can cause air conditioner breaker trips. That can cause a fan malfunction or a compressor malfunction. Capacitors have two separate categories. One is a run capacitor which is common for all motors including the compressor. The other is a start capacitor which is only used on the compressor if your compressor is equipped with this component. Furthermore, HVAC capacitors go bad and cause breaker trips in your air conditioning system.

*Three-phase and shaded-pole do not use capacitors. ECM motors do not use the type of capacitors we are talking about here. If you have an ECM blower motor or ECM condenser fan motor the capacitors are typically built into the circuit board or control module. In which case, you need to replace the board. In those cases, it is best to call a professional for repair.

Causes with Explanations - AC Breaker Tripped and Won’t Reset

Mechanical Problems with Motors/Compressor

A mechanical problem such as a bad bearing or something stuck that prevents or slows the motor from turning. The motor will work hard to run against that resistance. That will cause a high amp draw. It creates more heat, and eventually, the breaker in your air conditioning system will trip. Additionally, most bearings for residential motors are non-serviceable meaning they do not require oil or maintenance aside from periodic cleaning of the outer casing.

Compressors for residential systems are hermetically sealed, so there is no way to check a bearing or other mechanical problem. Finally, the problem needs to be looked at by an HVAC technician for resolution.

loose electrical connections

Loose electrical connections caused these fuses to blow and the outside unit breaker to trip.

Can Lose Electrical Connections Trip the Breaker? | Air Conditioner Breaker Trips

Loose electrical connections will cause air conditioner breaker trips. That can be loose wires in any part of the air conditioner system. In my experience, I have found loose wires on compressors. The system was not properly maintained, and the wires corroded, eventually causing a loose connection. Many HVAC supply houses sell wires specifically to replace the leads on the compressor. Finally, these leads ensure a tight fit of the wires to prevent future problems with the wire leads on the compressor.

Short Cycling - Outside AC Unit Tripping the Breaker

Short cycling of the system. This problem has become less of a concern since many people have modern digital thermostats. Modern digital thermostats have delay timers in them to prevent short cycling of the equipment. Short cycling is turning a motor off and then on again in quick succession. An electric motor goes from a dead stop to running at 100% in a split second.

In that split second, while the motor is starting, it draws a lot of amps to overcome resistance. Short cycling a motor will cause more heat from the amp draw. It can cause the air conditioner breaker to trip. In addition to digital thermostats being used to prevent short-cycling, many manufacturers are adding this feature to their circuitry to prevent short-cycling problems.

Wiring Size | Air Conditioner Breaker Trips

Improper wire sizing will cause air conditioner breaker trips.

Bad Hard Start Capacitor for Compressor | Air Conditioner Breaker Trips

Bad hard starting capacitor. Sometimes a hard start capacitor kit is added to a compressor to give it a boost on startup. If the hard starting kit goes bad, it needs a new replacement. A compressor starting up draws a lot of amperages, causing the AC circuit for the condensing unit to draw an excessive amount of power. These are only used if your compressor has a hard time starting up.

Outside unit tripping breaker

The outside unit can trip the breaker if there is an electrical or mechanical problem

AC Breaker Tripping on Hot Days | Outside Condensing Unit Power Supply Circuit | Common Causes

Remember, as described above, there are two separate circuits for your air conditioner so there are two separate breakers. One for the air handler and on for the outside condensing unit. In this situation, I would make a good educated guess that the breaker that is tripping is the condensing unit or outside unit. Additionally, the probable cause is the condensing unit is not getting enough air through the coils.

Furthermore, this causes the head pressure to rise and that leads to many problems including reduced cooling capacity. The most common causes of high head pressure are 1) dirty condenser coils and 2) a bad condenser fan motor. Finally, there are other reasons that cause high head pressure but those reasons will require diagnostic tools and a trained technician to diagnose.

Solution | Air Conditioner Breaker Trips

  1. Dirty Condenser Coils - Make sure the power is off to the condensing unit. Get a water hose and hose the coils clean from the inside out. Many times you will get a lot of dirt, grass clippings, and other debris. If you have a maintenance agreement or have had the unit serviced this should have been done when they serviced the air conditioner.
  2. If you are confident and have basic knowledge of electrical components and electrical circuits you may repair the condenser fan motor yourself. I don’t recommend it as some things are better left to the professionals. Hat tip: whenever replacing any PSC motor, always replace the run capacitor.

Moreover, once again, most of the things listed will require the attention of a trained HVAC technician to troubleshoot and repair. If the system is newly installed and these problems occur, then you likely have a problem with the installation. In that case, you need to call the installing contractor and have them fix it free of charge. Most installation contractors offer a 1-year warranty for workmanship. Therefore, if they made a mistake, and it does happen, then they should repair it for no charge. Furthermore, a tripped circuit breaker will cause your air conditioner to blow warm air.

Double-Pole Breaker Tripped AC

Double-Pole Breaker

AC Preventive Maintenance | Why does the Breaker Keep Tripping on my Air Conditioner?

Additionally, to prevent many of these problems from occurring and your air conditioner tripping the circuit breaker, a good maintenance plan is necessary. Some HVAC contractors offer maintenance agreements that will give you basic maintenance periodically. They also offer discounts and sometimes customer preference. Many of the things that can cause your air conditioner circuit breaker to trip can be prevented in advance with a good maintenance plan on a periodic schedule.

Furthermore, these HVAC contractors will check the system over, including for low refrigerant leaks, electrical problems, and dirty air filters. They will also check your gas furnace or heat pump per the maintenance agreement. If your AC breaker keeps tripping, you will need AC repair, but you can prevent it with proper maintenance. Finally, this will also keep your air conditioner more energy efficient and give you better reliability for peace of mind.

The Safety Codes

Furthermore, much of the things discussed in the article are covered under the National Electrical Code (NEC) or the Mechanical Code. When an air conditioner or heat pump starts for the first time, it should have an inspection by the local municipality. These inspections check to ensure the system complies with all safety standards. The safety standards listed in the NEC and the Mechanical Code. Furthermore, this ensures the wire is sized properly for the ampacity ratings on the equipment and appliances.

Most HVAC contractors will get a permit and have these inspections done. It is not only their professional obligation required by law, but it is also the safest thing to do. That all goes hand in hand with a proper installation. After all, if you do the job right, you will have nothing to hide. Especially for an inspector to inspect the installation. Furthermore, quality installation is important. Therefore, having an inspector check to make sure safety code compliance will add to that quality installation. Additionally, it can prevent future problems such as breaker trips.

High Performance HVAC Heating Cooling
Air Conditioner Breaker Trips

Questions from our readers:

My air conditioner breaker tripped after resetting it. What is the problem?

The question is a little vague. Is it the breaker for the condenser or the breaker for the air handler? Figure which on it is to narrow the problem down. Then use the troubleshooting steps above to solve the issue. 

The air conditioner breaker trips after resetting 5 minutes ago, what is the problem?

See the first question about vagueness. It does sound to me like something is getting hot and it works okay for five minutes. Then, after 5 minutes, something is causing the circuit pull too many amps. At best it could be a bad capacitor. At worst, it could be a bad motor o compressor.