How Do You Troubleshoot an AC Breaker that Keeps Tripping?


Sinclaire Enterprises, Inc.

140 South St., Walpole, MA 02081
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So it’s been a hot summer day, you’ve just come in after doing the evening watering of your plants and garden, and you’re settling down to enjoy some well-deserved relaxation. You’re in your favorite chair, nice and comfortable, enjoying the cool air your AC is blowing through the house, and then the AC goes off. You assume there was just a power fluctuation that tripped the system and turned it off, so you get up and turn the breaker back on.

And then it pops again…

After you turn it back on, it goes off again. Repeat with the same results. If you’re lucky, the problem is something outside your home that will soon be fixed, but you can’t rule out that the problem is in your AC system.

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What Does the Circuit Breaker Do?

Basically, your AC circuit breaker protects your home from fire. Overloaded circuits can bring more power than the system can handle, so the circuit breaker cuts off the power supply when that happens.

Why the AC Circuit Breaker Pops

When your AC goes out, and the circuit breaker pops, there typically is one of 3 reasons:

  • A power surge due to something like a thunderstorm has tripped it.
  • The circuit breaker itself is malfunctioning.
  • Your AC unit has an issue that is causing it to malfunction.

An Easy Way To Test Whether It’s Your AC Unit or Something Else

Before we get into this, let’s just make clear that if your AC circuit breaker is repeatedly tripping, you should stop trying to reset it, attempting to reset it puts your home at an increased risk of fire.

But if it’s the first time the circuit breaker has popped, here’s something you can try:

  1. Turn off both the AC and the thermostat.
  2. Turn the circuit breaker back on.
  3. Give the situation at least 30 minutes, which is enough time for the circuit breaker to reset.
  4. After you’ve waited at least 30 minutes, turn your AC back on to the temperature you want. If it works as expected, your system is probably fine. If the circuit breaker pops again, it’s time to call an AC pro.

Why Your AC Circuit Breaker Might Keep Tripping and What You Can Do

Now that we know or are pretty sure we know that the problem is with the AC system itself, let’s look at some of the things that could have gone wrong.

  1. The capacitor is malfunctioning. Your system’s capacitor is an essential component because it helps the AC motor start working. If the motor malfunctions, the capacitor will overload, and the AC unit will trip. Power fluctuations and overheating can also cause a capacitor to fail. When your AC unit is having trouble turning on before the circuit breaker trips, it’s a sign of a bad capacitor. The best thing to do is to call a qualified technician; changing a capacitor yourself can expose you to an electric shock.
  2. You have loose wiring. As an AC unit ages, the wiring can start to loosen (weather changes can also cause expansions and contractions that can loosen the wiring). The reduction in smooth electrical performance that results can cause your circuit breaker to trip over and over. To address this, contact an electrician or AC specialist who can tighten the wiring and get things back to normal.
  3. The circuit breaker is bad. AC problems aren’t always because the AC unit is malfunctioning. Circuit breakers deteriorate from wear and tear just as other things do. If the problem appears to be a malfunctioning circuit breaker, call an electrician to come out and make a repair.
  4. Air filters are dirty or clogged. A clogged filter leads to reduced airflow, making the system work harder to produce the temperature you want, possibly causing it to overheat and tripping the circuit breaker. The solution for this is easy: change your air filters regularly. Once a month is a good general rule of thumb.
  5. The outside unit is dirty. Since dirt is an insulator, an outside AC unit can have trouble dispersing heat when it’s dirty, drawing too much energy and causing the circuit breaker to trip. When this is an issue, you might want to clean the outside unit yourself, but it’s better to have an AC technician do it. This specialist will have the right equipment for the job and will also know how to avoid causing damage that can block airflow and lead to more problems.
  6. There are compressor issues. An aging AC compressor can have trouble starting, or a compressor can become grounded, meaning that an electrical winding inside has broken and is causing the system to burn out. Both will cause the circuit breaker to trip. For a compressor that’s having trouble starting, an AC technician can install a “hard start kit,” but in the case of a grounded compressor, you’ll need a technician to replace it.
  7. The motor has shorted. A motor running hot for too long can short out. Electricity running through the wires seeks a “shortcut” from its normal path, making wires overheated. Then they melt and cause a fire. When this situation is developing, the circuit breaker trips and shuts the system down to prevent that fire from occurring. For a shorted motor, contact an AC technician to find the source of the short and repair it.

Sinclaire Home Services: Safe and Reliable

An AC system is complicated and has a lot of working components. Because of the risk of electric shock, it also requires careful safety training to work on when dealing with these issues. These are reasons to leave the work to a pro.

If you google “AC service Bellingham,” “air conditioning repair Weston,” or something similar for Boston-area communities, you’re going to see Sinclaire Home Services in your top search results. This is because Sinclaire Home Services has been a regional leader in HVAC services for almost 75 years now. We’re still a family-owned business that prioritizes professionalism, reliability, and quality for all of our customers.
For Easton air conditioning repair, Needham air conditioning service, or AC services anywhere else in the Boston area, you can count on Sinclaire Home Services for prompt service, fair pricing, and results you can rely on every time.

Having trouble with your AC system? Looking for an inspection or routine maintenance? Get in touch with us today!