As a teen, Adam Bearup spent hours designing houses just because that’s what he enjoyed doing, never realizing that he was preparing for his future as The Hybrid Home Guy, a moniker he embraced at age 27 when he founded a company by the same name.
Bearup is now considered one of the leading sustainable builders in the country, known for working on “crazy, impossible projects,” as he likes to describe them, like Earth Shelter Project Michigan. At 12,000 square feet, the earth shelter is the largest in the world, and it is totally off the grid. Bearup chronicled the challenges of building the structure in a series of Web videos that was eventually turned into the PBS documentary Sheltered: Underground and Off the Grid. Bearup also built the first-ever LEED Platinum log home in America and Michigan’s most energy-efficient home ever tested, and he is the author of Build Green, Make Green, Save Green: A Practical Guide for Environmentally-Responsible Home Building.
You could say that Bearup was born into a green lifestyle, although that is not exactly what his family called it. “We just called it making due,” Bearup says of his family, who also lives in Michigan. Bearup’s mother cooked meals from scratch, recycled, and refused to let her kids drink groundwater from where they lived because of the existence of a local chemical company. “Growing up, people looked at us like we were different, and I guess we were,” Bearup says. “Sometimes I didn’t want to be different. I wanted to eat McDonalds like my friends, but now I’m grateful for the way I was raised. It prepared me for adulthood, like when I was painted as the oddball in the town meeting trying to get approval for wind generators in a little town in Michigan.”
The builder’s push to bring wind generators to Michigan is what put him on the map, which led to Bearup appearing on CNN and getting written about in newspapers nationwide. He says it was great to get recognition for work he loved so dearly. When he’s not building a house, he’s drawing a house, and when he’s not doing either of those things, it’s because he’s on a plane heading toward a speaking engagement where he will discuss building houses.
However, after an onslaught of attention, Bearup says he began to hate his work. He began taking any job that came his way. With 20 employees, the builder felt the pressure of providing a steady stream of work, but his heart wasn’t in it anymore. Bearup knew he had to go back to the roots of his company or risk leaving the industry in which he had become a pioneer.
The Hybrid Home Guy originally began with the goal of only taking on projects no one else would, projects that reflected Bearup’s commitment to sustainability.
“I worked with a smaller team, and I went back to exclusively working on my wild projects,” Bearup says, “and I fell in love again. The way I do things might not make a lot of business sense—like not charging a dime for projects until I’m sure they’ll work—but it’s what works for me. It’s my ethical responsibility to build insane projects that are ethical to the Earth and to treat the people who hire me ethically—it’s what makes me happy. It’s why I get out of bed every day. When I stop wanting to get out of bed to do this work, I’ll quit.”