Working with the Detroit Fire Department for nearly two decades, Gary Ringer has seen his share of fire-ravaged and neglected buildings.


He even coined the phrase: “I eat, drink, and sleep blight” to describe his relationship with the damaged structures he encounters in the course of doing his job. But while some folks might become discouraged when faced with this sort of devastation, it’s been an unlikely source of inspiration for Ringer.


In 2013, he founded a company called Eco-Environmental Solutions as a grassroots way to address blight in the Detroit area. The company specializes in deconstruction, the process of taking apart old buildings and salvaging parts of them for reuse. In doing this work, Ringer draws on an understanding of structures he’s gleaned from his time as a firefighter as well as prior job experiences building massive homes in the suburbs of southeast Michigan.


Over the past six years — while also working full time as a firefighter — he’s supervised around 15 primarily small-scale partial deconstruction projects. One of his more recent undertakings involved taking apart a dilapidated garage on Detroit’s West Side.


“It had an old garage door on it and was pretty much falling apart,” he says. “Once it was taken down, pretty much everything that was rotted went to the landfill. And anything we could reuse, we reused in their rebuild.”


Eco-Environmental Solutions aims to reuse or repurpose around 60 percent of anything it touches during a deconstruction endeavor. According to Ringer, there’s a small but growing segment of people who are extremely interested in using repurposed materials for building structures, making furniture and other purposes. He typically ends up getting salvaged materials to these sorts of people or uses them to rebuild the structures he’s working on.


Laura Sigmon of Best Practices Consulting Services, a Detroit based firm that collaborates with Eco-Environmental Solutions, says Ringer brings a wealth of knowledge about buildings and materials to his deconstruction projects.


“That’s his greatest area of expertise,” she says. “He sees a lot of it and can tell the difference between what’s modern and what’s historic craftsman’s work.”

While repurposing materials through deconstruction is a technique that goes back to ancient times, it’s a method that’s fallen out of fashion over the last century due to the rise of inexpensive modern building materials. Ringer became intrigued with the idea when he heard how people on the West Coast involved with the green building movement were using deconstruction to keep potential building materials out of landfills.

“I found out about this deconstruction thing and got really passionate,” he says, “reading and researching, contacting people from the recycling industry, trying to find out-of-the-box inventive ways to create a whole new industry.”

Story by David Sands
Photos by Stephen Koss

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