My irrigation system control box just died and I'd like to replace it with a smart controller based on a Spark Core programmable board, so I can monitor temperature, soil moisture, humidity, and other parameters and use them to intelligently turn on the sprinklers.
My main issue is power supply. The existing system ran off an old-style bulky transformer putting out 24V AC. This voltage was used to operate the solenoid valves (one at a time) and was also used to power the old control board, through some kind of rectifier and voltage regulator circuit which I haven't really dissected.
Most interesting, the old board used an array of triacs to switch the 24V AC current through the solenoid valves, one triac per valve. They used a GPIO pin straight off the MCU, amplified through a transistor, to trigger the gate of each triac. I'm not sure, but I think this would only work if there's a specific relationship between the DC circuit's GND and the incoming AC.
As far as I can see, my options are:
Develop a similar setup, reusing the old bulky transformer and triacs, building my own rectifier and voltage regulator to power my MCU board. This is a bit beyond my skill level and the risk of blowing stuff up would be non trivial. I also see it as power inefficient, unless I use a switching regulator, otherwise I would be dissipating the drop from 24V to 5V, which for 500mA would amount to 10W.
Keep the old transformer, but use a pre-made switching regulator board to pull 5V DC out of the 24V AC; then use transistors + relays to feed 24V AC to each solenoid valve as needed. This is well within my skill level and quite safe, but would still keep the bulky transformer around.
Find out the right DC voltage for the solenoid valves and run everything on DC at that voltage. Suppose it's 9V, I would only need to drop that to 5V to power my MCU board. Everything would share GND so I could use a simple transistor to switch the 9V to the valves.
I would go with option 3. but I'm wondering whether there are other reasons why an irrigation system would power its valves from AC. Specifically, I know AC is used in wet circuits to avoid corrosion, including "cat whiskers" building up between electrodes. The valves are a closed circuit, so electric corrosion shouldn't be an issue, even if they operate in a moist environment. Can I safely power them from DC?
What do you recommend?