Portable AC Tripping Breaker? (10 Possible Causes & Fixes)

Upgraded Home Team
by Upgraded Home Team

When the temperatures skyrocket in the summertime, the one appliance that works overtime is the AC. If your portable AC unit keeps tripping the breaker, you can do a few things before calling a service tech. The one thing you do not want to do is keep resetting the breaker if it continues to trip it.

The reason the breaker is designed to trip is to protect the appliances and all electrical equipment. It will also protect your home from burning down. So what are the causes, and what should you do if this keeps occurring?

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An air conditioner will trip mainly because there are more amps getting pulled y the breaker than what the breaker is rated for. So, if you have your portable AC pulling 30 amps on a 20 amp breaker, this will trip it. Don’t keep resetting it as you may cause a fire and harm your AC.

What Do You Do When the Breaker Trips?

These are the steps to follow if the breaker has only tripped one time.

Step 1: Turn off the Unit

Turn off the portable AC Unit from the power switch. Some only have the thermostat to turn it off.

Step 2: Reset the Breaker at the Breaker Box

Go to the breaker box and note the breaker will be in the middle of the ON and OFF switch. Flip the switch to the off position then to the on position.

Step 3: Wait 30 Minutes Then Turn AC On

You must wait for 30 minutes before turning the portable unit back on. This allows the internal circuit breaker of the unit to reset itself. When the 30 minutes is up, turn the AC back on to COOL.

Step 4: Wait and See

When the compressor is on, if the breaker does not trip, it was a power surge. If the breaker keeps tripping, then you will need to call an HVAC certified technician. If the breaker stays on for a time, then kicks off, then keep troubleshooting.

Power Surges Tripping the Breaker

When lightning strikes too close to the home, power lines, transformer, or anything electrical, power surges occur during a thunderstorm. It simply means too much electricity is overloading all of the circuits, and the power goes out. In some cases, it will trip the breaker one time, and it is okay to reset the breakers.

There is nothing anyone on earth can do to prevent power surges. It is something that happens from Mother Nature or even the power companies. If the breakers do not cut off in a power surge, the chances are high; the electrical components will burn.

If the Air Filter is Dirty, The Breaker Can Trip

When everyone talks about maintenance on any air condition, what is the one thing that is stressed? The air filter needs to be cleaned or changed regularly. This calls for once a month to keep the air flowing properly.

If the air is not flowing correctly, then the portable unit works overtime, drawing more amps. When this happens, the breaker will cut off, sparing the unit and the outlet. Once the filter is cleaned or changed, and the breaker stays on, you have solved the number one problem.

The Condenser Coils Are in Need of Cleaning

If the condenser coils are dirty, they can make the AC work overtime to keep the home cool. You can clean them with a vacuum cleaner hose with the brush attachment. There is a kitchen degreaser you can also use to take off the grime if there is some.

You can use spray bottles for the degreaser and use another for regular water to rinse off the coils. Once the coils are clean, try turning the breaker on again. If it kicks off after a while, continue troubleshooting.

For the rest of the steps, there is nothing more you can do. It will take a professional from here on out. Everything else deals with the electrical box or the components of the AC itself.

You will need to separate the two in the troubleshooting steps because it will take two services. One will be an electrician, and the other will be an HVAC service tech. You may get lucky and find one that can do both the box and the AC unit repair.

There May Be a Loose Wire Going to the Breaker

If there is a loose wire, faulty capacitor, or a short circuit in the wires, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO FIX THESE!!! Call a professional when it comes to the electric breaker box. If any of those things are the problem, it will trip the breaker every time.

An Overloaded Circuit Will Shut Off the Breaker

In these situations, the AC is not the problem. The breaker itself may not have enough amperage to cover the AC unit. If the AC is pulling 30 amps off a 20 amp fuse and breaker, it will trip the breaker.

The same applies to all appliances like refrigerators, microwaves, dishwashers, and other large appliances. When these appliances are running at total capacity, a lot can happen. Only an electrician can determine the cause and repair it.

Having a Faulty Fan Motor Can Trip the Breaker

We have covered everything an electrician can do for the breaker box. Now we move on to the HVAC services when the fan motor goes bad. There could be multiple reasons the fan motor goes bad, but usually, the only option is to replace it.

It is something that can strain the unit while pulling too many amps. These types of breakdowns all overload the circuit.

A Few Reasons The Evaporator Coils Are Frozen

These reasons below will freeze up the coils and strain the unit into pulling too much energy. The service tech will evaluate the situation and fix the problem. Afterward, if any of these are the problem, it should solve the breaker issue.

  • If the air filter is dirty, the coils will freeze up. (As mentioned earlier this you can fix yourself.)
  • The temperature outside may be too cool to run the AC. This will also cause ice on the coils.
  • If the system is low on refrigerant, the coils will freeze due to the strain. The breaker may trip if the unit is overworking.

If The Refrigerant is Low Much Can Occur

Refrigerant is like the blood that flows through the system to maintain the proper temperatures. If there is a leak, not only will the coils freeze up, but the portable AC will not blow cool. The number one cause for refrigerant leaks is due to corrosion on the coils from lack of maintenance.

It is also possible the system may be old and did its time. However, cracks and holes develop over time with these issues. If it is one or two leaks, it can be fixed.

The lines and coils will need to be replaced if there is more. Communication will occur if a complete replacement needs to happen. Since this also strains the unit, more energy than usual will cause the breaker to trip.

If the Compressor is Going Out There is Problems

The heart of the unit is the compressor. If this fails, not only will there be breaker problems, you may have to buy a new portable AC. The compressor is the component inside the AC that draws the most amps.

If the compressor strains to come on or go on and off, much power is drawn from the circuit. This would be a huge sign that is the cause of the breaker tripping. If you notice, most of these problems can be avoided by proper maintenance.

A Grounded Compressor Will Shut Down the Breaker

A grounded compressor means the electrical winding within the compressor is broken and has touched the compressor’s side. When this happens, it shorts out the circuit within the component, and it will automatically trip the breaker. Of all the problems, this is the worst.

For sure you will need a new compressor. If there is no more warranty, it is cheaper to buy a new unit.

Do You Need to Hire an Electrician?

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Related Questions

On the hottest days of summer, the breaker trips. Is there anything I can do to stop it?

It sounds like the AC is working overtime. Putting out box fans, keeping the shades closed to block the heat can help. Also, avoid going in and out as much as possible.So much cool air escapes each time the door is open.


What is the cost of energy burned on a portable AC unit?

The prices range from $.07 per hour to $.20 per hour. It also depends on how low the thermostat stays.


What are the safest temperatures to keep the inside of the home?

If you are looking to save money, summertime should be 78 degrees. When you are running the heat in the winter, 68 degrees is the best.

Upgraded Home Team
Upgraded Home Team

We are a team of passionate homeowners, home improvement pros, and DIY enthusiasts who enjoy sharing home improvement, housekeeping, decorating, and more with other homeowners! Whether you're looking for a step-by-step guide on fixing an appliance or the cost of installing a fence, we've here to help.

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