After 41 years in business, Variotherm strives to create a life of comfort.
Wilhelm Watzek originally wanted to be a pilot but due to his need for glasses he was unable to pursue this career – but luckily he was a talented technical drawer and became a hard worker in that field, before deciding to become a sales manager for a new-style heating system from America, known as a ‘baseboard heating’; the predecessor to Variotherm skirting heating. After working with the baseboard heating Wilhelm came up with an idea.
“We live in Austria and we love wooden floors and tiles. Why don’t we develop variable claddings for skirting heating systems and improve thermal transfer with corrugated louvers made of copper pipes?”
So, in 1979, he took a risk and got a 2 Million Austrian shillings loan, registered the patents, and became self-employed. After finding a small shop premise in the 10th district of Vienna, Mrs. Johanna Watzek became the first Managing Director. After settling on the name “Variotherm” (‘Therm’ being a unit of measure for the amount of heat), Wilhelm sat down and created his first logo.
A design for the Variotherm skirting heating system was completed and production began. Each skirting heating system was largely made by hand with a lot of physical effort.
In 1981, Wilhelm visited a master potter in the ceramic centre of Stoob and discovered stones suitable for a self-assembled tiled stove, the centrepiece of the heating system was a tiled stove, with storage stones laid around it. Inspired, the pre-milled grooves in these ceramic stones were laid with copper pipes, which technique is used today for state-of-the-art Variotherm wall heating and cooling systems.
In 1987, Wilhelm was contacted by architects and they expressed they were searching for a wall heating concept. As a first step, a wall heating system was developed based on the storage stones. It was easier to directly mount the pipes to the wall and cover them with mortar plastic. To retain their form, Wilhelm invented a special bending model. To prevent cracks as time passes and to ensure that the plaster can also cope with the temperature, they needed a company that offers the right kind of special plastic. Luckily, a supplier found in Peggau, Styria was able to provide the required plaster and is still providing plaster to Variotherm today.
In 1991, after outgrowing their first office in Vienna they purchases a small piece of land which had become available. After weighing up the cost of hiring a master builder, Wilhelm said, “We’ll do it ourselves! We’ll build it in the same way as a family home, except it will have 200m2 of office space and a 500m2 hall.” Every weekend Wilhelm worked on the building site with three helpers and with clever foresight, thousands of meters of pipe were laid in the concrete floor slab which was intended for heating and cooling.
In 1999, Wilhelm asked himself whether, in the age of computerization, automation, and the internet, if he should continue managing the company or put his life’s work in the hands of his son, Alexander. He trusted his tried, and test intuition found the courage to let go and made the right decision at the right time. “You take over the company and become the sole Managing Director,” he told Alexander. Alexander proved himself incredibly worthy and within three years he built another 500m2 hall, then two more halls (500m2 each) and one 800m2 hall and Variotherm became an industrial operation with partners and customers throughout Europe.
Originally the gypsum fibre boards used were milled by hand in 2001, the first computer-controlled production machine was developed in collaboration with a mechanical engineering company.
By 2003 the brand new fully automated production plant for expansion panels with integrated variomodular pipes for heating or cooling was set up. This plant made it possible for Variotherm to be made at a lower cost helping them meet the increased demands and requirements for shorter delivery times. Within the past 20 years, the production and storage area has been expanded by 2,300m2.
Central Heating New Zealand partnered with Variotherm in 2012. Variotherm supplies Central Heating New Zealand with VarioComp panels, pipe, filling compound, and the new module wall and ceiling panels. Variotherm systems come with a 10-year warranty with a life expectancy in the excess of 50-years. The low profile VarioComp surface is extremely fast-reacting, efficient, can be run on a low-temperature heating system, saves on the heating costs all while at the same time providing a cozy pleasant radiant warmth within the home.
In 2017, work began on the most extensive extension in the company’s history. The extension to the company’s building contains new office spaces, a consultancy and cozy VarioCafe and in the old building, which was also refurbished a separate centre for research and development was created. All the surfaces of the building are used in an energy-efficient way and have all the latest Variotherm technology. Now visitors can experience the quick change and reactive panels between heating and cooling.
For 40 years Variotherm has been obsessed with finding innovative ways to improve the comfort of homes. In February 2020, Alexander Watzek visited Central Heating New Zealand and together traveled around New Zealand giving presentations to architectural & mechanical specifiers, construction, and installation companies. Alexander, Variotherm’s Guru on perfecting thermal comfort, explained why surface heating and cooling is the way of the future for premium comfort and eco-sustainability as well as other benefits over forced air refrigerant-based systems in residential and commercial buildings.