Remember the movie Apollo 13? Remember the scenes of all those people putting together the filter designed to save the stranded astronauts? Remember how complicated the whole process appeared and how those brave rocket scientists were brilliant enough to use every ounce of creativity to design a life-saving device?

Well, as an engineering friend recently told me, “Those people weren’t rocket scientists, darn it! They were engineers!”

In society, many people picture engineers with thick-rimmed glasses and pocket protectors — brilliant, but geeky, math-centered automatons. The actions of those in the Apollo 13 mission shattered those misperceptions — and solar engineers today follow the lead of those creative geniuses.

Solar engineers, who are definitely not robots, are some of the most creative people I’ve known. At Standard Solar, I’ve brought the company’s engineering team (headed by C.J. Colavito) impossible project challenges with the full expectation they would never solve the problem. And somehow, some way (I think it’s magic), they always manage to create innovative and interesting ways around a project’s obstacles.

It’s impossible to overestimate how important it is to find a solar-installation firm with a strong engineering team. After all, each project encounters its own specific challenges. Whether it’s challenging soil conditions that render a typical ground-mounting apparatus unusable or maximizing array output on a tight roof space, it’s solar engineers that make business owners’ solar dreams realities.

Not everyone has a top-notch engineering team in house. Investing in solar engineers is expensive. Investing in the best solar engineers is an enormous cost. So to avoid those financial outlays, many solar installers outsource their engineering to outside companies. And here’s where the rub comes in.

There are about 5,000 solar installers in the country. There are nowhere near 5,000 engineering firms with solar experience. What that means is that solar engineering firms are overwhelmed with projects to design. To deal with the enormous overflow, they have templates they use for all projects they deem similar. Of course, they tinker with them here and there depending on the project—but for the most part, in the eyes of these overworked solar heroes, all projects are essentially the same.

I’m not criticizing outside engineering firms, and I’m certainly not implying that many of them do good work. In fact, we’ve used them on occasion ourselves. But if you really want a customized solar design—if you want something that addresses your specific needs from the beginning—find a company with an in-house engineering team. It means the company is serious about finding you the best solution to your particular problems.

Although solar engineers don’t save astronauts from malfunctioning space equipment, they can save you thousands of dollars in the long run by using their creativity to customize your array to meet all of your solar needs.