Watch Green Happen in Kansas

Greensburg, Kansas was already dying when a powerful tornado finally finished it off last year. But its thousand citizens decided to come back as a town worthy of its name.

Discovery’s new Planet Green channel is documenting the small Kansas town’s effort to be the greenest town in America in a television series that is attracting national attention.

One of the first people the town turned to for help was Tim Schmidt, CEO of Xtreme Homes in Oroville, CA. Here’s what he has in mind for Greensburg.

To begin with, there will be a new factory to manufacture ultra green modular homes. Eventually the factory, which will break ground next March, will employ 225 people, creating an employment base for a town that had virtually none.

The new plant will ultimately turn out 600 homes for Greensburg, not enough to sustain the operation. But the Wichita market with Boeing and an Army base soon to swell with thousands of troops returning from Europe will provide plenty of potential customers for Xtreme Homes. The plant will also turn out commercial and public buildings.

If you watch the show, you’ll see Schmidt making his case to the city council on the finale of the first season. The city donated 50 acres to the company to build the plant, not a problem for a town that was virtually leveled by the tornado. The opening show for the next season will feature the ribbon cutting for the plant.

Schmidt says that he can turn out the nation’s greenest homes for 5% to 25% less than conventional stick built homes. His company, he says, is in constant R&D mode. Here are some features he is using and plans to use in his homes:

  • SIP (Structured Insulated Panels) for the exteriors (He makes them himself.)

  • Recycled metal studs

  • Mold proof showers that don’t use leaky concrete but are made from a proprietary material used by a German firm

  • Grey-water systems for flushing toilets

  • Heat recovery in shower drains to preheat water

  • Solar pre-heating for hot water

  • Paperless dry wall in bathrooms

  • Soapless washing machines that get clothes cleaner and discharge no soap to the sewer

  • Radiant heating with solar assist

  • Living roofs

Last year at the West Coast Green conference in San Francisco, Schmidt’s green house with a living roof was put up in front of the City Hall where it drew big crowds.

The city of Greensburg’s power will be provided by four 2.5-MW wind turbines under the control of a municipal utility the town has organized.

Xtreme Homes’ Oroville plant runs a green four-day work week (taking cars off the road one day per week). He has 63 employees and is adding three a week to deal with his backlog of orders.

On a recent visit to the factory floor there were, under construction, a 7000-square-foot hunting lodge, a 500-square-foot guest house for the Napa Valley, and a 600-unit apartment complex for Sacramento.

How green is Xtreme? Schmidt says they can make LEED silver “without even trying.”

His biggest project, at 400,000-square feet, is in the works. It’s under wraps, but his hint was that it would be part of the greenest ski resort on the West Coast.

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Mark Braly was energy advisor to the mayor of Los Angeles during the 70s energy shock, author of the city's prize-winning energy plan, and president of a State of California non-profit corporation which made loans to renewable energy businesses. Now retired, he is a City of Davis, California, planning commissioner working on the city's zero-carbon program. He is president of the non-profit Valley Climate Action Center.

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