In Raleigh, North Carolina, a father-and-son team are bucking the trend of industrial bitcoin mining.
Bitcoin mining is a highly energy intensive process in which competing parties race to add the next block or batch of transactions to the blockchain. The reward for doing so is 12.5 BTC – just under $7,700 at a bitcoin price of $615.
It’s that pursuit for fresh bitcoins that led Jason Gantt and his father Vernon to pursue a mining operation of their own. They operate two bitcoin mines out of their respective homes, with a third one currently under construction.
In some ways, the North Carolina operation harkens back to the old days of bitcoin mining. Back then, hobbyists at home would build a rig, connect to the network, start hashing and, with a dash of luck, scoop up some bitcoins of their own.
But mining has changed over the years. Driven by competition, climbing costs and an ever-escalating network difficulty, the most successful mines are the ones that scale the most effectively. As such, the average mine has evolved from a handful of computers at home to data center-based operations in which hundreds of machines are simultaneously grinding away. What’s more, these operations have grown more prevalent in areas with the most competitive power costs, taking operators to places like the river valleys of Washington or the mountains of Tibet.
That’s not the case for the Gantts, who built their mines in the suburbs of North Carolina’s state capital. The two have been cataloging their efforts on YouTube, offering a glimpse of how the two deal with the day-to-day ups and downs of mining digital currency.
According to Jason, it’s an experience that evolved from a hobby to an investment pursuit to a full-blown career. It’s also one that builds on their past experience working in the home water and heating industry.
He told CoinDesk:
“It wasn’t until I hit my first block when I had some [AntMiner] S7s, that I told my father about it. He became very interested, was asking all sorts of questions about what bitcoin is and whatnot. And so, he thought it was a great idea and wanted to go big. So that’s how we got our start.”
Jason told CoinDesk that the origins of the family mining business date back to 2010, when he first began experimenting with the digital currency and acquired his first bitcoins. In interview, he lamented that he hadn’t bought more at the time, echoing the comments of many early adopters.
Technical tragedy would soon strike, however, when the private keys for those early coins became lost during a computer replacement.
“So I lost [the bitcoins], and that point, ASICs were coming on the scene so I kind of stayed out of it until about probably 2014,” Jason explained.
Helping them through the early days was their collective experience working on electrical, plumbing and home heating systems professionally. This, Vernon said, gave them “an understanding of what these machines require”.
First came the mine at Jason’s home, followed by a second site hosted by Vernon. The two turned primarily to the AntMiner line of mining hardware, procured from Bitmain in China.
According to Jason, those early efforts have resulted in an operation that, overall, produces roughly 600 terahashes per second in mining capacity. Revenue wise, the two said that they produce about $9,000 per month, after expenses, paying an average of six and a half cents per kilowatt hour in that time.
The trials of mining
But those returns, early as they may be, didn’t come easy.
Those who have mined bitcoins at home know that it’s not simply a process of plugging in the machine, standing back and watching it print you magic internet money.
It’s a process more akin to babysitting. Miners need to keep a close watch on their machines, checking and optimizing performance, watching those ever-precarious temperatures and remaining vigilant for power shortages, technical problems and anything else that might interrupt the process.
Like those who’ve come before them, David and Vernon have dealt with their share of troubles. A recent video on their YouTube channel detailed one particular issue with power transformers.
“His transformer blew multiple times, and my transformer blew multiple times over the summer when it grew too hot,” Jason said in interview.
Those problems wouldn’t stop with the power.
More recently, the two encountered a bit of flooding as a result of Tropical Storm Hermine, which struck the East Coast US early last month. In one video dubbed “our mining pool lol”, Jason and Vernon detail the spate of flooding problems experienced at one of their mines.
As can be expected, the future of the Gantt family bitcoin mining operation lies in growth. More machines, bigger capacity and more sophisticated cooling mechanisms are on the agenda, the latter of which constitute the most immediate concern, the two said in interview.
The mining process has also shifted, slightly, to include capacity for other digital currencies as well. One of the mines plays home to an ethereum rig, built using graphics cards.
According to Jason and Vernon, the two are looking to speed up their efforts by bringing in additional investors – though the scope and scale of that involvement hasn’t been entirely figured out.
“We’re currently considering adding one or two investors to possibly speed things up. We’re in talks with one, but they kind of want more than we’re willing to give. We’ll possibly do crowdfunding to get to that point.”
The goal: 15 petahashes per second by the end of the year, an ambitious target that will be largely determined by the success of the third bitcoin mine. But they won’t be alone, says Jason. When in doubt, the two say they’ve turned to bitcoin’s online community for assistance when they hit a wall in their mine development efforts.
“The bitcoin community is the most amazing community, of such friendly, helpful people,” said Jason. “If there’s ever been a question, I simply ask and someone is always ready to lend a hand.”
Images via YouTube