NYC Metro Area’s HVACR Blog

Commercial Air Conditioning, Commercial HVAC, Residential HVAC

Tips for Troubleshooting AC Electrical Problems


AC electrical problems

What’s the key to troubleshooting problems with complex equipment? In many cases, it’s deciding when to try fixing it yourself and when you need to get help from professionals. That can be a life-or-death decision when facing an AC electrical problem. Unless you happen to be a licensed electrician, messing with circuits yourself can be very dangerous.

Related article: DIY HVAC Repair? Don’t Even Think About It

On that note, it’s a good idea to be cautious and turn off your AC before investigating the problem if you suspect electrical damage. You might also not be sure if an issue is caused by faulty wiring or some other problem. These tips will help you troubleshoot the issue and guide you to the right course of action once you’ve discovered the cause.

Here are some common problems you might encounter, and actions you can take safely.

Issues with electrical parts

Some AC electrical problems can arise solely from broken electrical parts and faults in the wiring that services it. These are some of the common parts and problems that lead to electrical failure.

Loose wire

Within your air conditioner itself, there are many electrical parts that bring power to different parts of the unit. If any of these wires come loose over time or with excess wear, it can disrupt power flow to those parts.

Wrong fuse

If you’ve already self-repaired, or had your AC electrical system serviced by someone other than a professional, you might now have incorrect replacement parts in your unit. This includes the wrong type or size fuse for your specific HVAC system.

Dirty fuse

Just like filters need to be cleaned to allow the flow of air, fuses need to be kept clean to allow the flow of electricity. If your unit hasn’t been properly maintained, debris can block the connection between fuses.

Bad capacitor

The capacitor is an essential part of the AC electrical system. It stores charges and regulates the power to the system. If the capacitor is failing, you could experience recurring AC electrical problems.

Short in wiring
When wires receive more electricity than they were designed to handle, they can short out. This can happen due to a power outage in a storm, or the wires could weaken over time. This blocks the flow of electricity and causes a fire hazard.

Unless you are trained and skilled in electrical repairs, don’t try to fix these problems yourself. The risk of injury is too high. Also, these tend to be inexpensive repairs so it’s worth calling the professionals.

Electric bill suddenly goes up

AC electrical usage can comprise a significant portion of your regular electric bill, so if your air conditioner suddenly runs more often or uses more energy than before, than you will see that change reflected in your bill. Keep track of significant changes and call a professional to investigate AC electrical problems before they lead to breakdowns.

AC won’t turn off

If your air conditioner is constantly running and struggling to reach a desired temperature, it might not be electrical damage at all. Buildings that skimp on AC maintenance are likely to develop symptoms that resemble AC electrical problems. An accumulation of dust and grime in your filter can make your AC struggle to keep cool and run constantly. This could lead to frozen coils, so keep up your regular maintenance.

Related article: Top 5 Causes of Frozen AC Coils

On the other hand, if your AC is reaching the set temperature, and yet continues to run all the time anyway, your AC electrical problem could be an issue with the controls. The sensor in the thermostat could have come loose or shorted out.

AC electrical problems after a storm or power outage

If you’re struck with thunderstorms and heavy downpours, you may want to check for minor flooding that may be affecting your air conditioner.

It’s easy to blame an AC electrical problem on lightning or power outages, but it could just as easily be out due to contact with water.

While it’s ok for some parts of your AC to be exposed to water (such as coils and drain lines that carry moisture out of the system), it’s not ok for electrical components. If an old and poorly maintained system has loose or uncovered wires, it could have shorted out. Definitely turn your AC off before checking for water leaks where it is housed.

If you experienced a power outage and you ruled out water damage, what’s your next step? If the power came back but your air conditioning still won’t turn on, you should check the circuit breaker.

Here’s what to do after an outage:

  1. Shut down your AC by turning off your thermostat
  2. Locate your electrical panel and find the circuit breaker that your AC connects to.
  3. Leave your thermostat off for at least half an hour. Your AC needs time to reset its internal circuit breaker.
  4. After waiting, the air should come back on with the thermostat. If it doesn’t, investigate further AC electrical damage.

The AC trips the circuit breaker

In the event that you follow the above steps and your AC comes back on, the circuit breaker could potentially trip again.

NOTE: If your circuit breaker keeps resetting, leave it off! That means there is still a dangerous level of electricity in the wires.

If the rest of the power to your house or building is uninterrupted, that could mean your AC is over heating. Worse AC electrical problems may result.

These kinds of circuit breaker interruptions happen for a good reason. Power surges can occur when the grid is hit with lightning strikes, or when the power is first reconnected after an outage. A surge of electricity can damage your equipment and increase the risk of a fire. The circuit breaker senses abnormally high levels of electricity and shuts the system down before it can cause any harm. In this way, circuit breakers can actually prevent AC electrical damage by turning off the power before it can break your HVAC.

AC electrical work is best left to trained professionals

If you make it your business to know all about your appliances and maintain your building, it may be tempting to also try and maintain your air conditioner, or fix an electrical problem. While there are a few preliminary steps to take, it’s smarter and safer to leave all AC electrical work to a reputable HVAC service company. They have the qualifications to service both your AC and the electrical system it’s connected to.

The best thing you can do is learn about your HVAC system and your specific AC electrical problem. That way, you can be prepared to make an informed decision about how best to take care of your air conditioning.

If your AC is down for the count due to electrical problems, you’re probably wondering if it’s time to replace it. AC electrical issues are one of those areas that can mean an easy fix, or a sign of major problems that might not be worth repairing.

While we hope you won’t need it, our guide can help you learn when to repair your HVAC and when to replace it: Repair or Replace? A Guide to Making an Informed Choice When Your HVAC System is Down

Repair-vs-Replace CTA