During the 1970s Ken Pryor worked as a heating plumber for a sub-contractor servicing commercial glasshouses. One of Ken’s roles was laying underfloor heating to keep the giant greenhouses at a steady temperature. A conversation with Ken reveals that at this time undersoil heated pitches were a relatively new invention, but they used electric cables to heat the pitch which back then was made from soil. While the electric cables were successful at melting any frost and snow, they had the huge drawback of baking the pitch. The contracting company Ken worked for at the time had the idea of using the same water-based underfloor heating used in buildings but to heat a pitch, which worked with much better results. With a niche idea and the right skills, creativity and determination Ken founded Pitch Heating Ltd in 1979. 42 years later and Ken now works with his son Lee and a small team who have installed underground heating for over 200 pitches across the UK and Europe for some of the biggest football clubs around.
With a full off-season this year Leeds United have taken the time to modernise the pitches at Elland Road Stadium and Thorp Arch training grounds to elevate the pitches to the club’s Premier League standards. Ken explained that the new training ground’s pitch is designed to replicate the stadium conditions to ensure that the training sessions give the Leeds players more familiarity with the same surface, size and dimensions of the pitch. It is a legal requirement for all Premier League teams to have measures in place to adequately combat frost and snow on the stadium pitches. Football is a lucrative industry, with TV rights and ticket sales Premier League Clubs cannot afford to have a frozen pitch on a Saturday. The financial costs of having a match cancelled due to frost and snow would be hundreds of thousands.
Ed Chappelow, Director at Chappelow Sports Turf Limited, was called in to provide a full pitch reconstruction at Thorp Arch with a new irrigation and drainage system. Ed explained that the construction of professional pitches has developed significantly since the days of simple soil pitches. Professional pitches like Leeds Training grounds are now made of 125mm of gravel which drains the water, topped with 200mm of sand, a 100mm sand/soil mix and a hybrid turf consisting of stitched synthetic fibres every interwoven 2cm2 and combined with organic grass. This provides ideal playing conditions and helps to maintain the grass. Over the first layer of sand Pitch Heating installed 36,500 meters of MDE piping running the length of the pitch at 250mm intervals – enough piping to carry around 140,000 litres of warm water around the pitch. This was connected to a self-contained boiler which houses the circulation pumps, shunt pump, expansion vessels and boiler.
While gas is typically used to heat the water before being pumped around the pitch, the remote location of the training ground meant that connecting the installation to the gas grid wasn’t an economically viable option. Instead, Ken decided to use kerosene heating and calculated that a 10,000 litre oil tank would provide sufficient oil storage to heat the pitch for at least 1 week during cold weather. The boiler will use around 160 litres of oil per hour when flat out (compared to 175 cubic meters of gas) which provides 62.5 hours of heat. However, Ken recommends keeping the boiler ticking over and maintaining a constant minimum pitch temperature of 10°C. Just like our home boilers, maintaining a set temperature is often more efficient than fluctuating the temperature. Additionally, anything less than 10°C and the fertilisers for the grass don’t work effectively.
With strict time constraints around the build and a necessity for reliable equipment that won’t cause the players any down time during training, Ken needed a tank he could trust. Tuffa’s heating oil tanks have a proven track record with Pitch Heating having installed our tanks to heat pitches for Crystal Palace and Derby County. For the Thorp Arch pitch Ken purchased our 10,000 litre plastic bunded oil tank fitted with a cabinet housing the fill point, battery bund & overfill alarm, Watchman Sonic and % hydrostatic gauge to give greater fuel level accuracy. The tank was then installed on a stand Ken purpose-built to raise the tank, helping to feed the boiler and use a maximum amount of oil from the tank.
Construction of the stadium pitch has finished and the Thorp Arch training pitch is a near copy. The addition of underground heating fuelled by kerosene stored in a Tuffa tank will give the players Leeds players a slight advantage by allowing them to train and familiarise themselves year-round with the replica stadium pitch. With the heating system already seeing action this winter, we caught up with Ken to see why he chooses Tuffa for his tanks:
Ken Pryor, Director at Pitch Heating Ltd
“Tuffa makes large 10 and 15,000 litre oil tanks in plastic meaning we can easily site the tanks which have a large storage capacity without the costs of steel. The quality of the tanks and the service from order to delivery is exceptional, if it wasn’t I wouldn’t keep coming back.”
We’ve been manufacturing tanks for over 30 years and boast one of the largest ranges of liquid storage and dispensing tanks in the industry. Our oil tanks are HVO compatible, come with a 10 year warranty when integrally bunded, and are available in steel (900 – 100,000L) and plastic (1,350 – 30,000L using interlinking).
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