Portable Air Conditioner Circuit Breaker Keeps Tripping [Is It Safe to Reset?]

We all know the feeling. Actually, we all dread it. It’s one of the worst things that can happen to you; having to watch your air conditioner trip off endlessly, especially during the heat of the summer.

Your eyes move from the portable AC to the circuit breaker as they take turns to go off while you reset the breaker and turn it back on.

We’re guessing you have no idea what’s going on, and that is why we have put this article together to help you make sense of it all, and know what to do when next it happens.

So, why exactly does your portable AC trip off your circuit breaker? Does it mean your breaker is damaged? Is it a factor of overload? What should you do when it trips off? Is it right to reset a tripped breaker? Is the AC bad?

If you do not have an answer to these questions, then you’re in luck. Sit back, take a pen and a writing pad and take down some notes. We’ll start with the basic question;

What does a Circuit Breaker do?

In very simple terms, it protects. A circuit breaker acts as a safety switch for your equipment. What it does is to turn off the power completely when it detects an overload.

By shutting down the power, it prevents surge-related damages to your equipment, such as an air conditioner. This doesn’t only keep your appliances safe, but you and your family because an overload can often result in a fire.

But sometimes, a breaker can trip off abnormally and repeatedly, and that’s when you should know something is wrong.

What causes a breaker to trip repeatedly?

There are very many reasons why your portable AC circuit breaker may trip off repeatedly, and these include;

  • A power surge, caused by lightening or a thunderstorm in the area.
  • The air conditioner air filter is clogged. This is one of easy issues that you will be able to fix on your own.
  • Malfunctioning AC fan motor. This malfunction can be caused by a clogged filter, which may then cause the breaker to trip. The blades may also be dirty or clogged and that can be a factor too.
  • AC compressor may be faulty or failing. As the heart of your AC, a bad compressor could mean getting an entire unit altogether. Little investments in maintenance can help prevent or fix some of these problems, so you need to pay attention.
  • AC condenser coil may be dirty or faulty. You’ll notice that your AC no longer cools as well as it should. This coil is what is responsible for releasing accumulated heat out the back of your unit, but when it is dirty, heat transfer becomes limited or impossible, causing your unit to heat up- leading to a surge.
  • If the evaporator coil is frozen, a breaker trip may also happen. A lack of maintenance will often cause these coils to freeze up. This draws excess power and may trip the breaker. If you notice such, turn off the AC and call the professionals to handle it.
  • The refrigerant may be leaking out, causing fluctuating voltage. Cracks can happen as a result of rust and corrosion. This is normal when the unit has been used for many years without proper maintenance. Reduced refrigerant will put a strain on your AC as it struggles to cool the room, working harder and running longer. This can also cause a power surge and lead to a trip.
  • A naked or loose wire, or a failure of an electrical component within the AC unit. Such electrical issues can also be very critical and lead to the breaker tripping.

When it’s a power surge that causes your breaker to trip, you can easily reset it and turn it back on when the weather is clear. Be sure to check that everything is fine with your portable AC.

However, if it is any of the other signs listed above, something is wrong with your air conditioner and you’ll need to call in the experts.

What are the signs of a bad breaker?

Sometimes, it may be that the damage is already done and your breaker requires fixing or replacement. You may have also purchased a fake or the circuit breaker has simply lived out its lifespan.

Below are some of signs you can lookout in a bad breaker:

  • Circuit breaker begins to heat up badly.
  • When you perceive burning smell emanating from the panel.
  • Visible signs of wear, burned parts or ragged wires.
  • Flickering or blinking bulbs in your home.
  • Frequent replacement of light bulbs that die out easily.
  • Too frequent trips.
  • Melted wiring or other visible physical damage.

Is it safe to reset a tripped breaker?

It depends on what tripped the circuit breaker in the first place. If it was simply a case of a thunderstorm and you have confirmed that there was no damage to your air conditioner, it is safe to reset it and turn it back on.

However, if there is damage that is causing repeated tripping, it will be WRONG to simply turn it back on. The first thing you should do is turn the portable air conditioner OFF and check for any of the causes highlighted above.

If you find that there is no visible damage, turn the breaker back ON and wait for 30 minutes before you turn the air conditioner back ON.

This will give the unit time to readjust its own internal circuit breaker. If your assumption was right, your AC would work just fine.

However, if the breaker trips off again almost immediately, then there is a problem and you must call in the HVAC professionals to fix it.

Again, the air conditioner could work for a while (say 30 minutes) and then cause the circuit breaker to trip off again, this is a sign that it could be the air filter that needs replacement. As long as there are no thunderstorms or lightning and the grid supply is stable.

How do you fix a tripped breaker that won’t reset?

The best way to handle this is to find out why it tripped in the first place. If it is just an air conditioner, then it could be one of the reasons already discussed. Ensure the problem is properly fixed and then try again.

More often, a breaker trip is caused by an overloaded circuit. If you’re using the breaker for other appliances asides from the AC, the problem could also be from one of them.

If the problem with the air conditioner has been fixed and the circuit is not resetting, you can try the following;

  • Turn it off for a bit to cool off (between 15 and 30 minutes) and then turn it back on.
  • When you turn it back on, leave the air conditioner (and other appliances) unplugged for a few minutes, then plug them back one after the other until you detect which one causes it to trip off.
  • If none of them trips it off but the breaker still goes off after a few minutes, there could be a problem with the breaker itself. If this is the case, you need to call an electrician.

Sometimes, allowing it to cool off may just be all it needs to reset.  But when you try that and it doesn’t work, then there is a problem with either an appliance or the breaker.

How many times can a breaker trip before it needs to be replaced?

There are two things that should determine the answer to this question. First, what is the cause of the trip? Second, what type of breaker is it?

Most trips are caused by arcing faults, which are actually minor in the order of faults. If you’re using a Miniature Circuit Breaker (MCB) with UL Standard 489, you can get as much as 50 operations with such overload occurrences.

That is, it can survive up to 50 breaker trips before a replacement is required.

However, if it is a high fault (which is rare), this number is reduced drastically. Continued trips due to high faults may reduce the number of trips the breaker can handle to less than 5.

At the end of the day, how well the breaker performs after a trip should be an indication of its condition.

However, this is a risky path to follow because you may be relying on its inability to protect your appliances to ascertain that it requires a replacement.

The best action would be to call an electrician to check the breaker and your appliances after a severe overload to tell if it should be replaced or repaired, or not.

How do I stop my portable air conditioner from tripping the breaker?

The problem could be that the load of the AC combined with that of other appliances connected to the breaker exceeds the trip rating of the breaker.

If that is the case, you would need to find a dedicated circuit breaker for the AC alone. If the AC already has its own circuit breaker and it still trips it, it could be due to one of two things;

  • The AC’s full-load current may be beyond the recommended 80% of the breaker’s trip rating

 or

  • The breaker is underperforming (which could mean it is faulty) and tripping at levels way below its rating.

If the problem is number 1 above, you need to fix the problem with the AC. If it is number 2, then the breaker should be repaired or replaced. Some other times, a reset may be required and the problem would be solved.

Final Comments:

You do not have to endure the endless discomfort that a tripping circuit breaker can cause. In fact, it can be dangerous for you and your appliances to let your breaker trip repeatedly unattended.

Be sure to pay attention and take the right steps as discussed in this post to correct the anomaly. Also, be sure to purchase only a quality circuit breaker for your portable AC and carry out regular maintenance on your unit to avoid trips or other forms of damage.