Air Conditioner Constantly Tripping Circuit Breaker

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Old 06-24-14, 10:59 AM
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Air Conditioner Constantly Tripping Circuit Breaker

I am a student living in a rental apartment. My apartment did not come with air conditioning, so I bought a window unit when I moved here 3 years ago. It is casement window type A/C made by Frigidaire model FRA123KT1, 12000 BTU, 115 V.

It worked fine for 2 and a half summers, but this summer it has been giving me constant problems. This is what happens:

When I switch it on, it works initially, but after an indefinite period of time (5 minutes to a few hours), it starts to "fade" periodically. What I mean is that for a brief moment it appears to go out or slow down, and then it comes back. Sometimes it's like it shuts itself off for a fraction of a second, then immediately comes back on. Other times it's like it fades out (the usual fan noise drops considerably but doesn't go out) for 3-4 seconds, then comes back on.

This happens at increasingly shorter intervals. It starts off happening, say, every few minutes, then every couple minutes, then the circuit breaker trips. At that point I usually wait a few minutes then reset the circuit breaker and the cycle repeats, but the problem appears to be getting worse over the past few days.

When it is working, it produces cold air.

My apartment has a circuit breaker panel with 4 separate single switches, and two wider switches, that look like double switches joined together. Only the breaker with the A/C trips, the other circuits remain on.

Some other things I've noticed:

1. It has become a lot noisier over time. The first summer it was quietest, the second summer it got noisier. This 3rd summer it is pretty noisy. But even now, it has noisy and quiet phases - at times I will only hear a fan noise, while at other times it will have an added buzzing noise on top of that. I thought the second noise might be when the compressor comes on, but I have noticed that sometimes even in the "quiet" phase it's producing cold air, and I figure that in order to produce cold air the compressor must be running. So I'm not sure what to think anymore, other than it alternates between relatively quiet and pretty noisy.

2. Sometimes when it fades out like I mentioned above, a loud sound comes from the air conditioner. Not sure how to describe it other than like "brrrrrrt" - almost like sparking, but there is no burning or ozone smell. Other times it will fade out without any sounds.

3. Initially, the A/C was plugged into a receptacle near the wall where it is mounted. After this problem happened, I thought it might be a fault with the circuit breaker (this apartment has old wiring), so I plugged it into an outlet in the bathroom (using a thick extension cord). But the problem still happens.

4. For the first two summers, the A/C worked just fine plugged where it was originally. Nothing changed as far as I can tell. There was nothing else on the circuit originally other than a few computer accessories - a printer and scanner and cable modem. Since I plugged it in the bathroom, there is nothing on that circuit except a couple 25 watt lamps. I don't use any hair dryers or other appliances in the bathroom.

I am trying to figure out what might be wrong, or at least rule out what might NOT be wrong. Is it a problem with the A/C, with the breaker? What kind of problem might it be?

I am hampered by the fact that I am almost completely illiterate about electrical matters, and I have an unresponsive landlord. At this time my option seems to be to buy another A/C, but it is an expensive purchase and I don't want to do it only to find out that the problem was elsewhere.

Is there anything I could do to locate the source of the problem? Thanks!

-- Rebecca A.


EDIT: I scanned in part of the manual that came with the A/C - the circuit diagrams and specifications, if that helps: http://i.imgur.com/KwEOqJR.png
 
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Old 06-24-14, 12:37 PM
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Sounds like its a blockage in the line somewhere. Buy a new one
 
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Old 06-24-14, 01:12 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

Your problem is the compressor cycling. It tries to start and can't. That's what's happening when you hear the fan slow down and then speed back up. The compressor tries to restart, the fan slows down, the compressor trips on overload and the fan speeds back up.

When the compressor can't restart like it should it may trip the circuit breaker. If I had to hazard a guess I'd say the compressor starting/run capacitor is defective. Unfortunately it's slightly out of the DIY repair realm unless you are very handy as the unit must be removed from the window and disassembled.

Have you tried running the thermostat all the way up so that it keeps the compressor from cycling ? I'm guessing if you let the unit cool off a little while it starts back up semi-normally.

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Old 06-24-14, 01:39 PM
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Thanks for your reply.

I was wondering if you could go into a little more detail and provide some reasoning why you think it's a blocked line and not something else. Like I said, I know very little about electricity and I may not be able to fully understand your explanation, but I could Google terms I don't understand and perhaps at least partially understand.

What I am hoping to get is some understanding why this is likely a problem with the A/C and not anything else, so I can buy a new A/C knowing that this will fix the problem.

To further add to my previous post, I did a little experiment after I posted. I turned on the A/C but set it to "fan only" so that the compressor was not running. It was blowing warm air, of course, since it was fan only, but I had it on for about an hour like that and it didn't "fade out" or trip the breaker.

Then I clicked the "cool" button to turn on the compressor, and about 5 minutes later it flickered off and on rapidly a couple times, and then the circuit breaker went off and turned off the circuit.
 
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Old 06-24-14, 01:57 PM
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Thanks for your reply. I thought it might be the compressor cycling which does it, but as I said, when it's working at actually produces cold air, which means the compressor must be working, at least some of the time.

I did try turning off the compressor by clicking the "fan only" button on the remote, as I mentioned in my other reply on this thread. It was a relatively short experiment, only about an hour, but during that hour there were no problems other than the fact that it was obviously not cooling the air. Then I clicked the "cool" button on the remote to turn the compressor on. It came on and the air conditioner started to cool down the air, but it only lasted for about 5 minutes, after which the A/C "faded" twice within a couple minutes, and then tripped the circuit breaker.

To address the other thing you mentioned about cycling, let me add some more information. When the air conditioner was working, I usually set the thermostat all the way to the lowest it would go, which is 60 degrees. But the A/C is not capable of bringing room temperature down to 60 degrees when it is 90+ degrees outside, so usually I would end up with a room temperature of 66-70 degrees, which was comfortable for me. Of course, I assume this meant that the compressor would be working all the time, meaning it shouldn't cycle at all, but I thought it was okay for the 3-4 months of the year when I need to use the A/C.

So if as you say, the A/C is trying to cycle, I wonder why it would do that. After all, when it works, it is blowing cold air, which means that the compressor is on. But the thermostat is set to 60 degrees and room temperature is 70+, so why should the compressor even shut off and try to cycle?

Again, I appreciate your patience in trying to explain this to me. I know it must be hard since I am not technically inclined.

If, as you say, it requires dismantling to repair, that is beyond my abilities and I would have to simply replace it. I am trying to pinpoint the problem so I have some confidence that the problem is indeed with the A/C and not with anything else. I would hate to buy a new A/C only to have the same problem again.
 
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Old 06-24-14, 02:01 PM
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We know what is happening but we don't know exactly why. A blockage in the sealed system could be the problem. The compressor is a pump. If there is a blockage then it cannot pump the refrigerant. The pressure rises and the compressor shuts down on overload. A blocked system is the immediate end of that air conditioner.

The capacitor is what helps the compressor start and run. It is a very common failure item and in your case would be the only thing cost effective to replace. Without replacing it there would be no way knowing if it's bad other then checking it with a special meter.
 
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Old 06-24-14, 03:50 PM
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Okay. I don't know how to change the capacitor and I have no meter to check it with, so I guess my option at this point is to buy a new A/C. Any advise on that would be welcome as well.

In that regard, I have a question. Would it help if I replaced it with a slightly smaller A/C, say 10,000 BTU instead of the 12,000 BTU I have at present? I am thinking that a smaller A/C would draw less current, and therefore provide a greater margin of safety in case of slight overloads or as A/Cs age and draw more current. Of course it wouldn't help if it developed a serious problem like a blockage, but if my apartment wiring is kind of marginal for a 12,000 BTU load, would it help to go down to 10,000 BTU?

I understand that with a smaller A/C I might have to set the thermostat higher, say 72 degrees instead of 68 or 70, but that is fine if it will be more reliable.
 
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Old 06-24-14, 04:42 PM
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The current draw difference would be negligible. That unit is very expensive as 12K units run. I was trying to figure out why it still lists over $500.

I was looking into the warranty which doesn't really help you. Two-five year warranty on the sealed system. Compressor, coils, filter, tubing. However it doesn't cover a diagnostic fee, any labor, pickup or delivery to service location.
 
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Old 06-24-14, 05:38 PM
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Yeah, window units that fit casement windows are more expensive than those that fit regular windows. Smaller market, I guess. I am planning to order it tomorrow.

Is there a problem with running an A/C with compressor always on (set the temperature really low so it stays on and never cycles) for the duration of the summer? About 3-4 months? Would that hurt the compressor or compressor motor, or are they designed to withstand that kind of treatment?
 
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Old 06-24-14, 06:26 PM
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I am planning to order it tomorrow.
I'd order a different brand if you can find one.
 
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