While there are plenty of headaches that come with homeownership, few things are as alarming as electrical problems. If your air conditioner repeatedly trips its circuit breaker, then that's a surefire sign that a problem exists somewhere. Unfortunately, turning the breaker back on will rarely provide a long-term solution, and your air conditioner is sure to trip your breaker again in the future.
You should never ignore appliances that cause circuit breakers to trip or fuses to blow. When this happens, it means that something on the circuit is either experiencing a ground fault, short circuit, or overload condition. It's always unsafe to continue to run equipment in this situation, but can poor maintenance habits be the underlying cause?
The Basics of Air Conditioning Electrical Circuits
Electricians typically install dedicated circuits for high-demand appliances such as air conditioning systems. This approach means that you should have a separate breaker for your air conditioner's condenser, although your HVAC blower fan may also be on the same circuit. In other words, you can generally be sure that there's nothing else on the same line responsible for the problem.
The circuit breaker on this line exists to protect your home from the damage that overloads and wiring faults can cause. If you turn the breaker back on and your air conditioner immediately trips it again, then that's a good indication that there's a wiring problem. In this case, keep the breaker turned off and contact a professional for a proper inspection and diagnosis.
Infrequent or seemingly random shutdowns are more likely to be caused by overloads, however. Your air conditioner can overload its circuit even if the breaker provides enough power under normal circumstances. When this happens, it's typically the result of either the compressor or blower motor suddenly drawing more energy than it should.
The Relationship Between Maintenance and Power Draw
Two primary maintenance issues may cause your air conditioning system to increase its energy load: clogged filters and dirty coils. A clogged HVAC filter restricts airflow through the system, forcing the blower motor to work harder. If you ignore this condition for long enough, the blower may overheat and draw too much power, ultimately tripping the circuit breaker.
On the other hand, dirty evaporator or condenser coils put excess strain on the compressor. Your air conditioner's compressor relies on precise refrigerant pressure and temperature to operate efficiently. Dirty coils impact the efficiency of this cycle, forcing your compressor to work harder to move the refrigerant through the system. As with the blower, an overworked compressor may trip its circuit.
Fortunately, both of these problems are relatively easy to check. If performing some essential maintenance does not solve your problem, then it's time to consult a professional. Be sure to always rely on an air conditioning contractor if you suspect a wiring issue.