General Question

drdoombot's avatar

My (soon-to-be-replaced) air conditioner is frequently tripping the circuit breaker in my apartment. What can I do to prevent this?

Asked by drdoombot (8130points) July 6th, 2010

I have a 14,000 BTU AC in my living room. When it gets turned on, everything else must be turned off: TV’s, computers, microwaves, etc. Sometimes, on a hot day, even with everything else off, the circuit breaker still gets tripped. I don’t know much about electrical stuff, but the circuit breaker switch that is always getting tripped is labeled “20A.” My AC (if I’m reading it correctly) is “115V, 12A.” My guess is that the circuit breaker trips whenever more than 20 amps of current are going through (which makes me wonder: just how much power does a TV or a computer use?). In any case, will replacing the circuit breaker for a higher one fix the problem or just increase my risk for blowing up the whole thing? My circuit breaker has 4 switches in all labeled “20A” and it’s always the same one being tripped; I wonder if plugging my appliances into other outlets will have any effect on this problem.

I rent the apartment and I’ve asked the super to look into it, but he claims it’s the old wiring in our (pre-war) building and nothing can be done. In our lease agreement, we pay an extra fee for each air conditioner unit we have (currently two). But is the landlord really holding up his end of the agreement if turning those air conditioners on forces me to sit in the dark?

To top it all off, the AC causing all the power problems is just about dead. I’m going to be buying a new one in the next week or so. This has me wondering if I should be trying to get one that uses less power (if it exists) or buying a couple of smaller ones instead.

Correct me if I’m wrong: Wouldn’t three smaller ACs use less power then two really big ones? And yet, according to my lease agreement, I would be required to pay an extra fee for the third unit. I’m going to be contacting the landlord about this, but I’d like to educate myself on the issue before starting any trouble.

Any information on circuit breakers, amps, etc., would be really appreciated.

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9 Answers

Dr_C's avatar

A mini-split AC unit will use less power than a regular square version and should help with the problem. However if your problem resides in old wiring with a lower amperage/threshold you might want to try unplugging a few non-essential appliances. Just because they aren’t turned on doesn’t mean they aren’t using power… I usually un[lug all the kitchen appliances except the fridge and Microwave…. have all the blu-ray, satellite, cable and other electronic appliances unplugged until I’m going to use them.

It seems like a hassle to have to plug in the surround sound and the blu-ray every time you want to use it… but this has cut my electric bill dramatically.

Hope this helps

gemiwing's avatar

It could be that there’s power fluctuations that are normally within range that it doesn’t flip a breaker- but with the ac on it’s just too close to the limit. Or your ac could be pulling more power than it needs- but in my experience that would be accompanied by a burning plastic smell/ odd burnt fish odor coming from the machine.

Do you pay for your window units because you don’t pay for your own electric?

I would buy two small ones, close off rooms/hang curtains because that would let you tweak the system to really cool a room you are in and only moderately cool another. Also- it would break up the drain on the system and keep big draws on different circuits.

majorrich's avatar

dont use it. it might be heating up wires inside the wall and start a fire.

casheroo's avatar

Our central a/c keeps getting shut off because of the circuit breaker as well!! Only the a/c though, nothing else. We have no clue what it is.

perspicacious's avatar

I would turn the unit and breaker off and call the AC guy.

YARNLADY's avatar

I can’t bleieve what landlords get away with sometimes. That place is a potential fire trap. Send a letter to the owner with a copy to the local housing authority, demanding that the wiring be brought up to code immediately, or you will file a complaint.

I also suggest if you don’t have renter’s insurance on your belongings, get some now, so you are covered for replacement when it burns down – and buy yourself some personal fire alarms so you can get out with your life.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

The problem is that there are too many outlets with too many appliances that draw more electricity than that switch can handle. In other words, it’s not just the AC, it’s everything else. Your stove should be on a breaker of its own, plus a separate one for the rest of the kitchen, and one for each room of the apartment. Furnace should also be on its own breaker. I live in a 9 room house and I have 20 breaker switches in my box.

alamo's avatar

DO NOT USE A HIGHER RATED BREAKER!! Sorry for the all caps but it’s real important. The unit is supposed to draw no more than 12 amps at any time. The wiring may or may not be rated for 20 amp plus of electricity. A higher rated breaker can allow too much electricity through the wire and start a fire.
You are right about the rating. The unit is designed to use no more than 12 amps of power at 115 volts. If a unit that is “supposed” to use only 12 amps is tripping a 20 amps breaker, there are several possible problems. 1. Unit is going bad. You mentioned that the unit is just about dead. Check the filter. Even window units have filters2. Failing or faulty breaker. 3. Short in the circuit.
Try having the super replace the breaker., with one of the same rating. They sometimes just go bad. It is the easiest and cheapest first attempt at addressing the problem.
Then, have them install a new unit. If there is a short and you install a unit you bought, it may damage the new unit. Let them take the chance with their money.
If the new unit trips the new breaker, there is probably a short in that circuit.Push them pretty hard if that happens. It can be very dangerous.
Check your lease about the landlords’ responsibility. In my area, NC, anything that was functioning when you moved in, he has to maintain, repair or replace as needed.
You could try moving everything else off that circuit. What doesn’t have power when that breaker trips? Move those things. It is possible that enough other stuff is drawing 9 amps at the same time the unit is pulling 12 amps, which would trip the breaker.12+9=21=tripped breaker.It’s also possible that something else plugged into that circuit has a short. Have you added anything new to that circuit lately? Hope some of this helps.

debmae's avatar

In North Carolina, can a landlord disconnect the AC UNit when the rent is 3 wks late? ALso, they left a phone msg saying they were going to do it. I know that’s a $500 fine in some states. Do I start by going and filing a police report?

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