air filterThere is nothing worse than arriving home from a hard day’s work, opening your door, and being smacked in the face with hot muggy air. When you are expecting cool comfort, but your air conditioner stops working because it overheats, the reality of sauna-like conditions in your home can be depressing.

This is a surprisingly common scenario, however. When summer temperatures climb, a poorly maintained air conditioner can overheat. When an AC unit overheats, it trips the circuit breaker to protect your home from a potential electrical fire. While you may be able to get the unit up and running quickly by just flipping the breaker, until the root of the problem is fixed, the unit will continue to trip the circuit breaker.

Why Your AC Overheats and Shuts Off

Usually, it is easy and inexpensive to fix an AC unit that overheats. Here are three common reasons an AC unit will overheat and steps you can take to fix the problem.

Reason #1: Air Filters

The air filters are your AC unit’s first line of defense against dirt and dust. When the air filters become caked in dirt and dust, your unit must work harder. Dirty air filters block airflow in your home’s ducts. This causes your air conditioner to run longer and use more energy to cool your home.

Because your AC unit must work harder, it can easily overheat, especially when outdoor temperatures are already high. When your air conditioner overheats, it will either trip the circuit breaker or completely break down.

Solution

To keep your air conditioner running smoothly and efficiently, simply change the air filters once a month. However, homes with pets may need to replace their filters more frequently, especially if their pets shed extensively.

Reason #2: Condenser Coils

Condenser coils are located on your air conditioner’s outside unit. The condenser coil has a vital role in cooling your home. It releases the heat from the inside of your home that is absorbed by the refrigerant and releases it outside.

When excess dirt covers the condenser coils, it acts as an insulator. Like wearing a sweater on a balmy day, the unit heats up as the heat is prevented from being released.

The result is warm air coming through your AC vents. This causes the air conditioner to run continuously since the indoor temperature never reaches the level set on your thermostat. As your AC runs steadily, it will overheat and trip the circuit breaker or worse.

Solution

Keeping the outside condenser coils clean and free from dirt will prevent the unit from overheating. There are special products designed specifically for cleaning your unit’s condenser coils. However, condenser coils are easily damaged, which results in expensive repairs.

Leaving the cleaning of your AC’s fragile parts is best left to the professionals. Your local HVAC technician will clean and inspect your AC condenser coils as part of any routine maintenance visit.

Reason #3: A Refrigerant Leak

If your AC is low on refrigerant, the heat inside your home can’t be absorbed and circulated to be released outside. This causes the unit to blow warm air. A unit running nonstop because indoor temperatures never reach the thermostat setting will eventually overheat.

If your AC is unable to cool your house on hot days, or if the outside unit is covered with ice, the unit is probably low on coolant. Since your air conditioner doesn’t use up refrigerant the way a car uses up gas, if your unit is low, that means there is a leak somewhere that needs to be repaired.

Solution

The first step to fixing an air conditioner that has a refrigerant leak is to call a professional HVAC technician. The refrigerant is a dangerous chemical and needs to be handled with extreme care.

A qualified technician will:

  1. Confirm there is a refrigerant leak.
  2. Locate the leak.
  3. Charge the unit with ample refrigerant.

If you find yourself dealing with an air conditioner that is constantly overheating, look for one of these three common causes. If you have any questions and concerns, be sure to contact your local HVAC repair company. It’s their job to help you keep cool.