Difference between electrical service panel and distribution panel?

I’m very new (just about to take the National Exam to be certified). Can someone explain to me in plain terms the difference between an electrical service panel and a distribution panel? Thanks!

When you say electrical service panel I’m assuming you are referring to the main panel (sometimes on the outside) with the MAIN disconnect breaker, say 150 or 200 amp.
The distribution panel is the circuit breaker panel with all the circuits that may be inside, say in the garage.
Good luck! :cowboy_hat_face:

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The panel with the main disconnect is the service panel, and panels downstream (or on the load side) of the service panel are distribution panels.


I like Aaron’s definition and I would add that the service panel is the panel that contains the service disconnecting means.


William, welcome to our forum…Enjoy!

Got it. Thank you

And they’re usually combined, right? I don’t recall seeing a service panel with the main disconnect in one place and distribution in another.

The service is where the first means of disconnect past the meter occurs. It is where the neutral ground bond occurs.

Often, one will find a single breaker by the meter which is the service disconnect and a remote distribution cabinet, or more, inside the residence where the other breakers are located.

You can also find a distribution panel with a disconnect circuit breaker in it at the top or bottom depending on how the panel was installed, but it is considered a sub-panel when there is a main disconnect at the meter.


Thanks for sharing. I’ve never encountered a disconnect at a meter, good to know!

Yeah, often with older homes and not even that old you’ll find the main service disconnect and the breakers together (in some parts of the country like MN) only recently are they usually putting the main disconnect outside with the distribution inside

Around here unless there’s an issue with distance into the house the service disconnect is always in the panel. This may change with the 2020 NEC where as an emergency disconnect will be required on the outside of the house.


Same here unless it’s in a rural area, or manufactured home.

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Main panel and Subpanel makes much more sense to me lol